The Breast by Philip Roth [Book Thoughts]

The Breast is more of an imitation of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis than a homage to it. Amusing, but not much else.


The Breast by Philip Roth

Roth is an American Novelist from the 1950s who is, quite rarely for a famous author, still alive. Roth has an expansive literary career and is an award-winning winner of several awards, so it feels unfair to judge him by The Breast, the only book of his which I’ve read; and which I didn’t like.

The Breast is short novella narrated by Professor David Kepesh. He’s just turned into a giant female breast. Poor guy. Anatomical impossibilities aside, Kepesh has inexplicably become an immobile, sightless boob that can still hear, speak and breathe. He spends the novel in a hospital interacting with various visitors including his therapist, his father and his girlfriend and battling with trying to stay rational in a completely irrational situation.

Much of the book is filled with explicit descriptions of Kepesh trying to reinterpret his sexuality (as one might imagine, life is somewhat different as a giant breast). Kepesh also ponders on the ridiculousness of his own situation and wonders constantly if he has not become a freak-show to an audience he is unable to see. The imagination and the psychology is interesting certainly, and yet by the end of it I was left wondering if that was all that Roth had to say on the matter. It’s as though the idea didn’t evolve past it’s embryonic stages.

There’s also the obvious reference to Kafka’s The Metamorphosis in which the protagonist turns into a monstrous vermin. I say obvious because The Breast keeps reminding us that is a homage to The Metamorphosis (by explicitly telling us that it is). Truthfully it’s more of an imitation than a homage. The Metamorphosis is a genius work of psychological and absurdist fiction. The Breast is merely a drawn out joke.

The Breast has merits: the first person narration is amusing, and the sexual honesty will get you thinking if you don’t cringe easily. It doesn’t get much further than amusing however. It’s a short book, so perhaps I could forgive it for not saying much. But then again, The Metamorphosis is even shorter and holds more life than most novels.

Most vexing about The Breast is the end, which isn’t even an end. It isn’t even a middle, honestly speaking. It reads something like “I guess that’s about all I have to say about that”. I’ll give Roth another chance in the future. It would be unfair to judge him by this.

The Breast is more of an imitation of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis than a homage to it. Amusing, but not much else.


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