HERZOG by Saul Bellow

HERZOG

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KIRKUS REVIEW

There are two things we can say. Many feel Bellow is the best novelist of his generation, or at the very least, the best stylist. Herzog is not one of his best novels. It is, however, irritatingly impressive, and a very crucial work in the canon. It looks backwards and forwards. Something of Seize the Day is here- the Levantine honesty; something too of Henderson's nervy brilliance; and something quite new: the hero, an intellectual schlemihl, a professor of philosophy, a searcher trying on the masks of comedy and tragedy, seems to be an alter ego, as if Bellow were on a trial run, getting rid of the more subjective kinks for a forthcoming Major Leap. And that might explain the self-indulgence which inhabits the book, and a particular strategy-charming, funny, educative, boring- whereby Herzog is kept writing letters to the great or near-great, past and present, from Nietzsche to Ike. The plot is as cluttered as a case history: married twice, cuckolded by his best friend, romancing hither and thither, Herzog engages in numerous journeys both through his own mind and the worlds of New York, Chicago, Montreal. He contemplates murder, remembers the Jewish experience, takes the temperature of the metropolis (Bellow is of course a master at evoking alienation), meditates as an open-ended scholar, a self-conscious lover: "But what do you want, Herzog?" "But that's just it- I don't want anything." Characters dart in and out, for the most part, like the dialogue, demandingly, dexterously real; the details are splendid. In the end wry, whipped Herzog (I will do no more to enact the peculiarities of life. This is done well enough without my special assistance) has no messages for anyone. He will presumably, Just Live. Bearing an odd-shaped resemblance to the Henry of Berryman's Dream Songs, Herzog sums-up prevalent mood: a Chaplinesque acceptance of the end of ideals. It should be read.
Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 1964
ISBN: 0142437298
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1964




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