But the Write-Up is Not

February 4, 2007

In today’s Sunday Times, book review editor Sam Tanenhaus considers three Saul Bellow novels, Seize the Day, Henderson the Rain King, and Herzog, forwarding the opinion that Bellow is, in many ways, “beyond criticism.”

Interestingly, a number of the “defects” Tanenhaus points out in Bellow (“the longueurs and digressions, the lectures on anthroposophy and religion, the arcane reading lists”) are aspects of the novels I find most exciting. True, Bellow’s novels are the not tight, self-contained gems that we are accustomed to calling “perfect” — but they are very much the “baggy monsters” that Henry James called for (and wrote himself) and Mikhail Bakhtin praised. Of the three novels mentioned in the review, Seize the Day is the most self-contained, and shortest, while Herzog (whose protagonist Tanenhaus calls “the most fully realized intellectual in all of American fiction”) is the baggiest and best.

That being said, Tanenhaus does correctly praise the best parts of Bellow’s novels, speaking of “the almost physical sensation one has that each book is a fresh attempt to grab hold of knowable reality, in its many pulsating forms, and to fathom its latent messages.” Indeed.


One comment

  1. Interesting — I would like to read more Bellow.

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