Friday, 1 April 2011

Herzog by Saul Bellow

Hertzog is a highly educated man that has reached middle age and is on the edge of a mental breakdown. He is going through his second (and rather messy) divorce and everything in general seems to be falling apart. In order to help himself get back on track he continuously writes letters to people (sometimes written out, and sometimes just done mentally) with no intent to send them. The novel is not made up entirely of these letters but they do interrupt the narrative throughout.

This is my first Bellow novel and I would describe it as challenging. The writing itself is very good but quite dense so if your mind wanders even for a second while reading, you immediately lose track of what’s going on and have to re-read parts. Added to the denseness of the writing are Hertzog's letters containing subjects which range from modern philosophy to general rants and reflections. These letters only made this more of a difficult read for me and I ended up becoming quite lost.

I did very much enjoy the last 50 pages but I am not sure if this is because the plot suddenly starts to move and become clearer or if because I had just gotten used to the writing? Hertzog hasn’t completely put me off Bellow as I did like the more positive message towards the end that the novel was trying to convey. So while my first Bellow novel was not entirely successful, I will read another of his books before I make my mind up about him.

Posted by Jess


  1. I've been meaning to read something of Bellows for a long time. I love how you describe the writing as "dense." I've experienced that inother books and it's the perfect was explain it.

  2. I had this on my imaginary must-read-one-day list, but have yet to get a copy. I usually forget the title when I'm in a shop, actually. Maybe I'll leave it on the back-burner for a while - sometimes I love dense writing (Woolf, Kundera, etc.) but I have to be in the right mood.

  3. I enjoy Saul Bellow's writings but agree he requires his readers to focus on his books. I have learned that I cannot read his books late at night waiting for sleep! I haven't read Herzog but it's on my list. I shied away from it because of the letter writing which seemed silly after a while but since you wrote that you got lost after a while, I think if or when I read another book by Bellow, it probably won't be Herzog! His Pulitzer winner "Humboldt's Gift" is very good and I thought "Ravelstei" was even better!

  4. I have not read Saul Bellow; we have quite a few of his books in our used bookshop, including this one. I'm wondering if you have read Bernard Malamud, and if so, how his writing compares to Bellow? I have read Malamud, most recently The Assistant, which I found quite depressing.

  5. I'm trying to figure out if I could deal with his writing, as every now and again, my mind is prone to wander for a second (or two).

    I'm sorry it wasn't entirely successful, and I'm curious to know if all his books are equally dense or is this an exception.

    I struggled with the first thirty-forty pages of Woolf, but then got accustomed to the writing style. I also love Kundera, so, if it's books like those, I wouldn't mind giving this a shot... else...well, let's see! I do want to read something by Bellow.

  6. Avid Reader - yeah I was surprised actually at how challenging it was as I really wasn't expecting it.

    Simon - this one did take me ages and ages to read as I kept having to re-read parts so yeah, wait till your in the mood.

    Amy - thankyou for the recs, I do want to have another crack at Bellow as I found it ended quite positively which is rare sometimes.

    TheBookGirl - I have read Malamud and I found Bellows actual writing to be about 100x better although Malamud was much easier to read.

    anothercookiecrumbles - my mind wanders all the time which is one of the reasons I struggled I think. I will give him another go though to see if maybe it was just this one and that maybe the others are easier?

  7. Sounds like a challenging read, I'm not sure about the book now... :(