TRIBUTES to — and critiques of — Philip Roth have filled scores of print columns, online media and broadcast programmes since his death last month.
Yet, less than a week after the demise of a man who has been described as “the world’s greatest living writer”, he did not warrant a mention from David Baddiel on Desert Island Discs*.
Given that the programme was no doubt recorded before Roth’s death, it is still surprising that Baddiel didn’t talk about the writer whose life and death he had clearly referenced in his novel The Death of Eli Gold.
That novel was described by The Observer as “flawed by its own chutzpa” and continued: “Writing about Philip Roth (on whom Eli is clearly modelled) through a fictional lens is a feat of literary gymnastics that only the most exceptionally limber novelist should attempt.”
The reviewer concludes, devastatingly: “Baddiel isn’t quite up to the task.”
But Baddiel, with four novels and five children’s books under his pen and more than 30 years to go of Roth’s lifespan, could achieve literary stardom.
His 2004 novel The Secret Purpose, lauded as “satisfying and brave”, gave an excellent insight into the misery of Jews who had fled Nazi Germany, only to be interred on the Isle of Man as enemy aliens by an ill-conceived edict of a panic-stricken British government.
The narrative owed much to the story of Baddiel’s grandfather.
In fact, as he acknowledged on Desert Island Discs, his writing and his comedy are products of his own life experience and the events that inhabit it.
Similarly, Roth, in a lengthy interview with Alan Yentob re-broadcast last week, spoke of the inspiration he gleaned as an American Jew living in Newark, New Jersey.
Unlike Baddiel, Roth did not have a parallel career as a stand-up comic.
He — and others featured in the programme — spoke of his daily grind at his writing.
Disciplined and determined, it seems that nothing — not his family nor his marriages — deflected him from his chosen literary business.
Baddiel uses his family to fuel his comedy.
“Comedy is the only way to combat death,” he told Kirsty Young. It is also, probably, a more lucrative occupation!
His latest show, My Family: Not the Sitcom, has been playing to full houses in every imaginable venue in the country and tickets are already selling out for his Australian tour.
Night after night, he reprises his excoriating demolition of his parents’ behaviour. Mercilessly, he exposes his father’s descent into Pick’s Disease, a dementia that embellishes the “sweary, obscene” behaviour that he had always manifested.
Neither does his mother get off lightly. Her very public affair, of which she had been inordinately proud, is charted in great detail as are all her flaws and peccadilloes.
The entire one-man, stand-up performance is shocking, subversive, cruel, brilliant and hilarious. It is saved from outright calumny by a scarcely detectable but definitely pervasive . . . affection.
While he told Kirsty that his mum was a good mother, he nevertheless criticised her and his father for their style of parenting.
His father, he said, had been frightening, subject to terrible rages . . . and didn’t even come to his graduation ceremony (Baddiel got a double first at Cambridge).
Most of us aim to be better parents to our own children. I do wonder if Baddiel thinks it good parenting to expose a picture online of his son engrossed in his mobile
phone, oblivious to the breathtaking scenery surrounding him.
The sarcastic caption reads: “My son, hypnotised and
overawed as ever by the beauty of nature”. Whereas, on Desert Island Discs, he
breaks down in sentimental tears as his 10-year-old daughter plays the piano and sings Your Song — choosing this recording to take on his desert island.
If David Baddiel wishes to avoid being the subject of his children’s future stand-ups, maybe he should concentrate more on his literary output.
He certainly has the brains and the talent.
*Desert Island Discs is repeated at 9am today
UNLIKE relatively homogenous Jewish communities like Leeds,
Liverpool and Glasgow, which are also served by the Jewish Telegraph,
Manchester is a city of two distinct communities... north and south
of the city.
This was exemplified when I went to lunch with a friend at one of my favourite restaurants near my home in Didsbury, south of the city.
The previous week, I had been to the Prestwich branch of the same restaurant chain which, for any readers who don’t know, is in the north of the city (like many others, I “made aliya” from north to south many years ago).
In Didsbury, the special lunch menu offered soup and... smoked salmon in panini.
In Prestwich, the lunch menu was the same price, the soup was the same and the salmon was also on offer... but on baigel, not panini!
And that, in the neatest possible way, sums up the difference between north and south Manchester. You say baigel, we say panini!