Saturday, May 2, 2015

The five essential Saul Bellow novels

Zachary Leader is Professor of English Literature at Roehampton University in Great Britain, and the author of The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915-1964. One of Bellow's five must-read novels, as Leader shared at the Guardian:
Herzog (1964)

“Dear Doctor Professor, I should like to know what you mean by the expression ‘the fall into the quotidian’. When did this fall occur? Where were we standing when it happened?” This urgent appeal, addressed to Martin Heidegger, comes from Moses Herzog, in the grip of mania. Like other letters Moses writes (to Nietzsche, Spinoza, Governor Stevenson, President Eisenhower, Freud, God, his doctor, his shrink) it is never sent. Moses is an intellectual historian, author of a book entitled Romanticism and Christianity, and his letters overflow with erudite allusion and reflection. Far from limiting the novel’s appeal, the letters helped to account for its commercial success, sparked by the approving attention they received from reviewers. Herzog spent 42 weeks on the bestseller lists and sold 142,000 in hardback. That Herzog’s learning does him no good may also help to account for the novel’s appeal. When put to the test – betrayed by wife and best friend – the lessons of high culture simply don’t apply. “That’s where the comedy comes from,” Bellow writes. “What do you propose to do now your wife has taken a lover?” Herzog asks. “Pull Spinoza from the shelf and look into what he says about adultery?” Where was Spinoza when Moses married a woman who really does “eat green salad and drink human blood”? Where was he when her lover smarmed his way into Herzog’s confidence? Moses comes to terms with the reality of his situation over the course of an artfully plotted recovery, both moving and funny. In addition, there are brilliant scenes from Herzog’s Montreal childhood, as memorable and autobiographical as anything Bellow ever wrote.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Herzog also appears on Eli Gottlieb's list of the top 10 literary scenes from the battle of the sexes, John Mullan's lists of ten of the best taxis in literature and ten of the best bad lawyers in literature, and Rebecca Goldstein's list of the five best novels of ideas.

--Marshal Zeringue