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0023 | Herzog – Saul Bellow

Bellow has created a masterpiece of a idealist novel here which, for me, seemed ahead of its time. I heard the characters of so many later novels in my mind as I read it; American Psycho being a prime example, Proulx’s Quoyle from The Shipping News and Updike’s Rabbit. I also think Woody Allen must have got a lot from a character like Herzog for most of his films, particularly his neurotic ones (are there any others?)

The writing was so strongly idealist that I felt trapped within the mind of Herzog for about the first two thirds of the novel. It’s only as it reaches its conclusion with the effect that it has on the character that I felt a bit more legroom. Initially this was quite confining. I’ve never experienced literary claustrophobia before!

The novel has remarkable poignancy and is so evocative as Herzog struggles with his present, multiple episodes from his past and, ultimately, his future. He’s so human that you relate somewhere along the way. I related to his family issues, the failed marriages, the custody issues and the emotional betrayal. And throughout, his stream of letters, his clarion call which no one hears or responds to except for one or two characters who, even at the end, you feel may still crush his fragile remaining hope.

But somehow, I think he’ll be okay.

If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.


Unless you are utterly exploded, there’s always something to be grateful for.

Oh! thought Herzog in the train, the things women apply to their flesh. And we must go along, must look, listen, heed, breathe in.

The taxi went slowly, as if the old engine had a heart condition.

…the deepening of wrinkles, at first increasing a woman’s beauty. Death, the artist, very low, putting in his first touches.

An escaped balloon was fleeing like a sperm.

today’s assylum might be the dungeon of tomorrow.

Unexpected intrusions of beauty. This is what life is.

it flushed with silent power; the toilets of the poor always made noise.

coracoid: knuckle of bone protruding from the front of the shoulder blade
nihilism: belief that there is no universal truth or underlying reality that undergirds moral values; that ultimately existence is meaningless
peremptory: autocratic: offensively self-assured or given to exercising usually unwarranted power
marl: calcareous clay, or impure fine grained limestone.
quotidian: everyday: found in the ordinary course of events
quid pro quo: What for what; something for something; giving one valuable thing for another
sardonic: Scornfully or cynically mocking
cloaca: vent or common opening in birds through which the intestinal, urinary, and reproductive tracts empty.
glabrous: Without hairs, smooth.
exiguous: extremely scanty
grackle: long-tailed American blackbird having iridescent black plumage

Not a single word.

terrible > poor > mediocre > okay > good > very good > excellent > superb

FINISHED: 2007 – Apr

3 comments… add one
  • cipriano 2 August, 2009, 7:44 pm

    Ahhhh, I am just about to begin this novel. Looking forward to it, especially after reading your excellet review!

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