Winner of the National Book Award when it was first published in 1964, Herzog traces five days in the life of a failed academic whose wife has recently left him for his best friend. Through the device of letter writing, Herzog movingly portrays both the internal life of its eponymous hero and the complexity of modern consciousness.
Like the protagonists of most of Bellow's novels - Dangling Man, The Victim, Seize the Day, Henderson the Rain King, etc. - Herzog is a man seeking balance, trying to regain a foothold on his life. Thrown out of his ex-wife's house, he retreats to his abandoned home in Ludeyville, a remote village in the Berkshire mountains to which Herzog had previously moved his wife and friends. Here amid the dust and vermin of the disused house, Herzog begins scribbling letters to family, friends, lovers, colleagues, enemies, dead philosophers, ex- Presidents - anyone with whom he feels compelled to set the record straight. The letters, we learn, are never sent. They are a means to cure himself of the immense psychic strain of his failed second marriage, a method by which he can recognize truths that will free him to love others and to learn to abide with the knowledge of death. In order to do so he must confront the fact that he has been a bad husband, a loving but poor father, an ungrateful child, a distant brother, an egoist to friends, and an apathetic citizen.
Herzog is primarily a novel of redemption. For all of its innovative techniques and brilliant comedy, it tells one of the oldest of stories. Like The Divine Comedy or the dark night of the soul of St. John of the Cross, it progresses from darkness to light, from ignorance to enlightenment. Today it is still considered one of the greatest literary expressions of postwar America.
©1992 Saul Bellow; (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"A masterpiece." (New York Times Book Review)
"Herzog has the range, depth, intensity, verbal brilliance, and imaginative fullness - the mind and heart - which we may expect only of a novel that is unmistakably destined to last." (Newsweek)
Bellow is at his misogynistic best in Herzog. It's still a brilliant novel. The man struggles to find his way through a minefield of women to find himself as a man. Surprise! He does.
Given his reputation, and the high esteem in which he his held by writers whom I hold in high esteem, I always feel like I should like Bellow more than I do. Herzog is a good book, but (for me) not a great one.
I'm tempted to blame my ho-hum reaction on the fact his characters often seem less like real people and more like puppets for the author, through which he can espouse some point or another. But if I'm honest that same argument could be made with even more accuracy at authors I love like Pynchon and DeLillo. Maybe it's just that what he has to say isn't all that interesting.
It could be that I find language is unmoving. There are occasional phrases that seem clever, but there's no musicality.
Whatever it is, Bellow just leaves me a bit bored.
In which Bellow presents us with the perpetually outraged, perpetually pampered Herzog. I kept thinking that the book is the male writer's answer to the sophisticated romance novel - Herzog is offered delicious food, love, and great sex by a series of beautiful, intriguing women. A utopian fantasy, isn't it? The only problem is that Herzog is hung up on one of these women, his second ex-wife Madeleine, a meretricious academic wannabe and Jew-turned-Catholic (horrors, according to Herzog!). From the reader's point of view, Madeleine's reason for being is clear enough - she is one of the most unforgettable villains in literature, along with her strange associate Valentine. Bellow's examination of the folie a deux that connects Madeleine and Valentine is more fascinating than the most twisted reality show. But the main character's reason for being is less clear - okay, he's a fully sketched human being, but why should Herzog be interesting enough to narrate this novel? He mostly isn't; he writes countless letters puffed up with pseudo-learning and philosophical gibberish. In the end, the writing is lovely enough to carry you through to the end, but the book's reason for being was not always clear to me.
The novel demonstrates how consciousness and our reality is formed and altered by theories or narratives and how a person can benefit by becoming more engaged.
I value intelligent stories with characters I can relate to. I can appreciate good prose, but a captivating plot is way more important.
Holy hell. My wife recommended this book to me, in what I can only assume was some cruel practical joke.
I listened for an hour and NOTHING AT ALL had happened.
I'll return to it again because my wife wants me to read it, but for all of you out there who have free will, run for the hills.
I'll update my review if I ever hate myself enough to finish the book.
So I really tried.....I got through about 5 hours but I just couldn't continue - nothing happens
I liked the idea of a main character who spends most of his time writing letters, the style and narration are good but don't say you were not warned. It is so incredibly dull.
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