IF THERE is one detail of Philip Roth’s biography that is worth knowing, it is not that he was Jewish or that he had no children or that he was born in New Jersey—it is that he preferred to write standing up at a lectern. There are pages of his work where the irrepressible vitality of his writing seems to glow on the page as if charged with some kind of existential incandescence—the great and persistent question of his novels being no less and no more than: what the hell do human beings think they are doing here on Earth?

Mr Roth died on May 22nd. His work will forever be synonymous with verve, energy, wit, ontological wrath and—above all—a total commitment to both subject and style. His career began in 1959 when he was accused of being anti-Semitic following the publication of one of his early short stories, “Defender of the Faith”, in the New Yorker. The row nearly overwhelmed him. “What is being done to silence this man?” wrote a prominent rabbi. But real fame—and literary and commercial success—came with “Portnoy’s Complaint”, published in the revolutionary year of 1969.