“Leaving a Doll’s House,” Claire Bloom

Another week, another Physical Book successfully read! We are also 2 for 2 on enjoyment, even if this one is a little uncomfortable at times.

If you are not familiar with “Leaving a Doll’s House,” it is Claire Bloom’s memoir (Amazon | Goodreads) of being alive for a long time, sleeping with all the most amazing men, and then having a horrible divorce from Philip Roth. It is a special treat for people who love literary feuds. It falls short of the sheer glee of Paul Theroux’s “Sir Vidia’s Shadow” (Amazon | Goodreads) of course, which is about his friend-breakup with V.S. Naipaul. I once ran into a nice couple on a cruise who were very good friends with V.S. Naipaul, and within FIVE SECONDS this happened:

Me – Did you read “Sir Vidia’s Shadow”???!
Them – Of course! Of course! We all have, but we pretend not to.
Me – Is it true? Is he that terrible?
Them – Yes. But Vidia is a genius, so we overlook it.

READ IT. Anyway, Claire Bloom. Here are the men Claire Bloom talks about having sex with before Philip Roth shows up:

Richard Burton – “I felt absolutely no guilt about anything, because I knew that to make love with Richard was something that had to happen.”

Laurence Olivier – “I was flattered and frankly amazed that he should want to conduct an affair with me, for however short a time, when he was married to one of the most beautiful women in the world.”

Yul Brynner – “Yul was very magnetic, his body as stocky and powerful as the trapeze artist he sometimes claimed to have been.”

Richard Burton, again (he had that effect on women, it seems) – “His hands were shaking, as were mine.”

Rod Steiger – “We went on vacation to Sicily, and I returned two months’ pregnant.”

Anthony Quinn – “A spent and sweaty Zorba then joined the rest of us mortals at the table and calmly ate his moussaka.”

Those parts are all super-fun, and, honestly, even though she’s obviously kind of awful, how can you not be a LITTLE bit “get yours, gurl!” about humping Richard Burton? And the stuff on her wartime childhood and breaking into acting and working with Chaplin, etc, are all completely fascinating.

And then, Roth arrives:

Our meeting was typical of us and ridiculously simple. I was walking up Madison Avenue to have tea with my yoga instructor; Philip Roth was walking down on his way to a session with his psychoanalyst.

Annnnd, scene. This is where the whole literary endeavor starts to get dicey. Admittedly, I am a Roth person, having read “Sabbath’s Theater” (Amazon | Goodreads) sixty times, but it’s not like I don’t think he’d be the worst husband in the world. He obviously would. He’s written books about it, for heaven’s sake.

But Bloom blames him a lot for her own bad decision-making. Okay, he drew up a really awful pre-nup. His lawyer told you to get your own lawyer to look at it. You didn’t. Okay, he told you he didn’t want your adult daughter staying with you when she visited New York. You’re a grown woman, tell him to fuck off or whatever. She never claims he was abusive, just that she preferred not to rock the boat. That’s on you, lady.

And then he went crazy, which, I mean, is not really his fault. He’s saying awful things to her and sending weirdly aggressive letters, but he’s also on lockdown at Silver Hill and profoundly unstable.

It’s all EXTREMELY entertaining, but also voyeuristic and a little gross. It’s not clear why we should know this much about Philip Roth’s medical history. One can be very sympathetic to Bloom (oh, man, the scene when he’s all ‘here’s a draft of my new novel, “Deception,” (Amazon | Goodreads) in which a writer named Philip is cheating on his bitchy old actress wife Claire with a bunch of ladies in their house’) on the privacy front, but, again, not always cool.

Also, all the parts about Richard Burton were slightly impacted by the fact I kept seeing the actor from “Liz and Dick” instead of…Richard Burton.

Essentially, they’re both a little juiceboxy and it seems wise to steer clear of being married to either of them, so continue your shocking pattern of going on non-dates with people who aren’t obviously bad at being in relationships, instead. Now, I need to re-read “I Married a Communist” (Amazon | Goodreads).

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