At 79, Roth apparently has had enough of writing novels. The Slate writer thinks this may explain his recent attempt to fix his Wikipedia page–it’s time to work on his legacy.
The recent news that he had finally agreed to work closely with a biographer also suggested that perhaps he saw the end of his career approaching. And his recent contretemps with Wikipedia further implied a focus on his legacy.
If this is true, I’m glad his last novel was Nemesis, which was great, rather than the one that preceded it, The Humbling, which was embarrassing. It’s always good when people have the sense to bow out at, or at least near, the top of their game. I’ve always liked John Updike, but I was unable to finish the last couple of novels he wrote; the times seemed to have passed him by. Even Shakespeare seems to have gone on a bit too long; I wouldn’t regret it if Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen had never seen the light of day.
Maybe the best way to leave the stage belongs to Charles Dickens; drop dead with a murder mystery (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) half-finished and the killer unrevealed. Which led to ongoing attempts to finish the novel, including this one:
The third attempt was perhaps the most unusual. In 1873, a young Vermont printer, Thomas James, published a version which he claimed had been literally ‘ghost-written’ by him channelling Dickens’ spirit. A sensation was created, with several critics, including Arthur Conan Doyle, a spiritualist himself, praising this version, calling it similar in style to Dickens’ work and for several decades the ‘James version’ of Edwin Drood was common in America. Other Drood scholars disagree. John C. Walters “dismiss[ed it] with contempt”, stating that the work “is self-condemned by its futility, illiteracy, and hideous American mannerisms; the mystery itself becomes a nightmare, and the solution only deepens the obscurity.”
I don’t think anyone would try to complete an unfinished Philip Roth novel. And I certainly don’t think Roth’s ghost would help him.