On Thursday I mentioned the writerly catfight that followed Philip Roth and Claire Bloom’s much-publicized divorce in 1996. Bloom, an actress, recalled the books and the break-up in a recent Independent interview:
All hostilities pale … when set against Roth’s response [to Bloom’s memoir]. For starters, he hired solicitors in the US and Britain, who threatened legal action if Bloom continued to give interviews to promote her book. Then, in his 1998 novel I Married a Communist, he created a character, Eve Frame, clearly based on Bloom, but with a few not-so-subtle twists. A self-loathing, anti-Semitic Jewess, she fawns over shallow society figures, endures physical attacks from her overweight and vengeful daughter, sides with fascists by denouncing her husband in print, and ends up a “hopeless drunk”. What did Bloom make of that?
She clutches at the collar of her coat and whispers, “No!”. Still under her breath, she explains that she hasn’t read the book. “I just couldn’t.” I can hardly believe this, I say, and she gives a timid sort of shrug. “Since Philip and I were separated – in 1993 really, though we were divorced in 1996 – I was terrified to read any of his books, and that one, for sure, I wasn’t going to read. Every time I saw a copy, I felt sick or faint.”
Her face brightens. “I was in the airport, in a bookshop, and I was standing like this [she leaps up] with my hand on a pile of books. And I looked down and, goddammit, it was Human Pain!” (Roth’s book is actually called The Human Stain; as slips go, this one speaks volumes.) “And I thought, ‘Buy it! Read it! Stop it!”. She laughs, and sits down. “And I’ve been fine ever since! It was as though it was saying, ‘Come on [she bangs on the table for emphasis], get on with it, pass this by, you’ve got to pass it by!’.”
But she couldn’t do the same with I Married a Communist? She looks at me, like someone with a fish phobia who has just been asked to stroke Jaws. “No, no, no. I couldn’t. I couldn’t.”
She is still in several minds about the break-up itself, during which Roth was on Lithium for much of the time. It damaged her, she says. “Look, I’m not exactly the person I was before. At a certain point, you’ve got to come to terms with certain horrors, but it was pretty extreme.”
She was manoeuvred out of the two homes they’d once shared. There was also the night when Roth started bombarding her with faxes – one was a bill for the 600 hours he had spent rehearsing scripts with her; another demanded she return her wedding ring. She and Anna were both there, as one missive after another “plopped” on to the floor. Eventually, the two women started laughing. Which suggests, I say, that things could have been worse. At least they had each other, at least they knew it wasn’t them going mad.
(Thanks to Beat Royalty for the link.)