Athill’s complaint

Publisher, editor and memoirist Diana Athill recalls one of her “biggest regrets”:

losing Philip Roth, whose first book Goodbye Columbus was published in 1959 in the UK and Australia by Andre Deutsch. When his second novel, Letting Go, arrived on Athill’s desk, she thought it “tremendously good, but too long. But he was a valuable property from the moment he began; everyone wanted him. And he was a bit moody. And we agreed that if we started tinkering with this book, he would leave us. So we’d better just lump it. So we published it, and it didn’t do very well. Years later I was talking with him about Letting Go, and he said, ‘It’s far too long’ – I could’ve murdered him. “Anyhow, that made us cautious.”

They offered a modest advance for the next book, When She Was Good, which Athill thought “a pretty dreary novel” and he turned them down and went to another publisher. “And the next book was Portnoy’s Complaint. Oh. That was awful!”


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