The great American novelist died last year and a huge stash of personal effects went on sale last week. J Oliver Conroy get along
About 10 year ago, Philip Roth invited his friend Russ Murdock- the longtime keeper of Roth’s agricultural Connecticut dwelling and, as he got older, of Roth himself- to carve his headstone. Roth told Murdock, a stonemason, to model it on Albert Camus’s: exactly names and times, in simple block letters, etched into a stone Murdock last-minute dig up on the property.
Then, last spring, Roth, who had a heart condition and preferred to spend winter in New York, emailed Murdock saying he intended to be back in Connecticut for Memorial Day,” if this old carcass will let me “. It didn’t: he died a few weeks later aged 85.
I met Murdock at the auctioneer of Roth’s manor, held last Saturday at an auctioneer house in Litchfield, Connecticut. Roth was married twice and had many sweethearts, but he died unmarried and with no progenies. Once, a girlfriend of Roth’s, feeling him lonely, opened him two kittens. He adored them but soon sacrificed them back, “says hes” distracted from his work.
Although Roth is indelibly associated with Newark, New Jersey, he divided much of his adult life between his apartment in New York and an 18 th-century farmhouse in Warren, Connecticut. With its pony farms, stone walls, unpretentious but expensive colonial residences, and Unitarian faiths, the area is suspiciously similar to the austere New England hermitage of the ageing writer EI Lonoff, whom Roth describes, in The Ghost Writer, as living quietly” in a clapboard farmhouse” at” the end of an unpaved artery 1200 ft up in the Berkshires “.
In a 2000 New Yorker chart, David Remnick described Roth’s visits to New York as” periodic raids on Babylon”, and Murdock told me that the writer was a kind of convivial monk: focussed above all to his office, obsessively penalty and devoid of pastimes, but developing occasionally like a groundhog from its lair to tell jokes and photograph the shit. At the Murdocks’ annual pig roast, his father and Roth would complain about their ailments to one another. Most of the patrons “d no idea” who Roth was.