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"If I am out of my mind, it's all right with me, thought Moses Herzog. " Thus begins Herzog, Saul Bellow's 6th novel, and the second one of his works to win the National Book Award.

As we meet Herzog he has retreated from life to his former home in the Berkshires, contemplating his life after the shocking, to him, failure of his 2nd marriage, writing letters he will never send, most of which are written only in his imagination, to the various people in his past whom he has offended, or by whom he has been offended. Herzog is complex, a neurotic and depressed scholar and adulterer, but also an intelligent, kind, vigorous, and attractive man, whose "strength of constitution worked obstinately against his hypochondria".

Bellow is employing a nice light touch here, by turns amused and mildly cynical. If he can keep the story moving, and not fall into the abyss of Herzog's mind, then I think I am going to really enjoy this novel.

Lemlest and I will be doing an informal group read on this book, and would enjoy having any interested parties join in.

Edited by Dan
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I am finding Herzog to be a sympathetic and interesting character. But the book is jumping around a lot. So far it is not a major problem. But as the cast of characters grows it may well become very difficult to keep up.

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What do you think of all of these intellectual discussions in this book, Lemlest? Some of it I find fascinating, but a lot of it is going right over my head. When Mady and Shapiro are talking about Russian literature the only names I recognized were Dostoyevsky and Kropotkin, and I don't know much at all about Kropotkin. But at least Bellow usually shows the ideas which form the substance of the discussion, so I can form an opinion.

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It's kind of a nice technique, sort of post-modernist, the way Bellow introduces the various episodes of Herzog's life with an imaginary letter to one of the principals in that episode. Mostly because of the letter aspect this episodic time jumping ends up not being as confusing.

I'm 130 pages into this now, and while this is no page turner, in fact it is rather slow, it is well written, interesting, and compelling. This is definitely character driven, as opposed to plot driven.

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Unfortunately I have had no time to read! The last few days have been crammed full with essays and my university application, I am only 8 pages into Herzog so I'm afraid there isn't much for me to say at this point!  :speechles

 

I did once try to read Herzog when I was younger, maybe 14/15 years old, and I got about a quarter way through then stopped reading because I found it somewhat slow and not very interesting (I can't really remember much of what I read), however I think this was because of my age! I am finally free tonight and will try to read as much as possible and make a decent contribution to this thread!!

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There is no rush here, Lemlest! In fact I am finding that this is not a book I can read quickly. But when I slow down and let it slowly wash over me, and when I am willing to raise my eyes from the page and ponder what Bellow says, then I am deeply moved by this story of Herzog's life.

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So I have been reading non-stop since my last post, literally not stopping for anything and I have just reached page 210  :burnout:

Not going to lie, it has been pretty boring so far however it is just starting to pick up slightly now. I do believe there are many strong points to this novel, such as the use of unsent mental letters and the opening sentence of the novel, which I really do like, but the amount of characters that are introduced and aren't really developed can be tiring and overall Herzog fails to keep my attention, but I think this is purely my personality and not the fault of Bellow or the book itself! I will keep trudging on, hopefully I can finish this book today! I have a massive pile of books to read and I would really rather be reading something more interesting!

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One of the things that has most impressed me with this book, Lemlest, is how well he does develop these very tertiary characters, who may rate only a few pages in his life. Sandro, Shapiro, Dr Edvig, Nachman-none of them were just cardboard cutouts. That is a neat trick to pull off in just a few paragraphs

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I have now finished this novel, I admit I may have rushed it slightly due to my eagerness to progress onto my next read however thinking back on the novel, it wasn't all bad and boring. What I find most amusing is that the character Aleck, who is introduced on page 227, was more interesting to me than Moses Herzog ever was. The character of Valentine Gersbach was also very interesting to me, but I think this was purely based off his aesthetics. I think the dynamic change in tone from the beginning to the end of the novel is very heartwarming and actually stimulates an emotional response in me, towards Moses. I enjoyed the narrative perspective of this novel, with everything being portrayed directly through Moses, I think this completely traps the reader and forces them to endure EXACTLY what Moses is enduring and feeling. After talking to a few friends about this novel, I discovered that it has autobiographical elements, for example both Herzog and Bellow lived in Chicago for a significant amount of time, share the same religious beliefs, and come from the same types of families. Very interesting novel, but I don't think I could re-read it. I think perhaps a good novel for my first group read? As there are different ways to interpret Herzog and it has the potential to be a good topic for debating. 

 

 

Once more, I really do find the unsent letters to be unique and a very good play by Bellow, throughout the novel Moses keeps writing them, however towards the end of the novel the letters begin to thin out, eventually leading to the end and the revelation that Moses does not need to write these mental letters anymore. The letters (and lack of) obviously show the process of Moses' mental healing as he gradually takes control over his life again.

 

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The middle third of this book was really a slog for me. I got bogged down in the acedemic, intellectual, philosophical monologues of Herzog, mostly because they were monologues. Making them into conversations would have helped me a lot because I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what he was arguing against. But, for me at least, that is a key theme of the book; Herzog has continually arrayed himself against people and the world, but it is all acedemic, intellectual and philosophical. It's all in his head. He seemed happiest when he was renovating the house in the Berkshires, and actually getting his hands dirty, which apparently was very threatening to Madeline.

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Just finished this novel, and I think Bellow did an excellent job with the ending.

Moses Herzog has turned the corner on his self absorbed depression and is ready to look with clear eyes upon the future. He seems to have finally recognized both his masochistic tendencies, and his urges to leap from frying pans to fires and into another frying pan, and to have resolved a different approach. There are no pretty bows or grand epiphanies. He has looked upon his past and believes he has learned from it, and now he is ready to move on. The episode in Chicago when he thought he might murder Mady and Valentine has shaken him from his romantic delusions of what a 'real man' would do, and granted him an acceptance of his true character.

It was a satisfying way to wrap things up, while leaving a world of possibilities open.

I was struck throughout by the timelessness of this novel. Take out the airplanes and it could have been written about any period in the 20th century. And the themes of the dreamer encountering reality, the intellectual trying to parse life from an ivory tower, 'potato love' vs cynicism and ambition, and the man-child's puzzlement at being betrayed by his innocence were timeless as well. And this book was written for another time, a slower paced world where the reader would take the time to mull over the masses of ideas promulgated here, maybe reading it out loud with friends and family, a pre-screen era when the pace of the world matched the pace of this book.

But, having said all that, it did bore me in places. And it annoyed me, as it always does, that there was a real dearth of translation of the many Yiddish, or maybe Hebrew words, and conversations in French. And, as I said before, I'd have gotten a lot more out of the philosophical and intellectual debate, if it had been a debate rather than mostly appearing as monologues. So, for those reasons I can only give this 4stars, but I also heartily recommend this book to anyone with the patience to appreciate it.

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I have now finished this novel, I admit I may have rushed it slightly due to my eagerness to progress onto my next read however thinking back on the novel, it wasn't all bad and boring. What I find most amusing is that the character Aleck, who is introduced on page 227, was more interesting to me than Moses Herzog ever was. The character of Valentine Gersbach was also very interesting to me, but I think this was purely based off his aesthetics. I think the dynamic change in tone from the beginning to the end of the novel is very heartwarming and actually stimulates an emotional response in me, towards Moses. I enjoyed the narrative perspective of this novel, with everything being portrayed directly through Moses, I think this completely traps the reader and forces them to endure EXACTLY what Moses is enduring and feeling. After talking to a few friends about this novel, I discovered that it has autobiographical elements, for example both Herzog and Bellow lived in Chicago for a significant amount of time, share the same religious beliefs, and come from the same types of families. Very interesting novel, but I don't think I could re-read it. I think perhaps a good novel for my first group read? As there are different ways to interpret Herzog and it has the potential to be a good topic for debating.

 

 

Once more, I really do find the unsent letters to be unique and a very good play by Bellow, throughout the novel Moses keeps writing them, however towards the end of the novel the letters begin to thin out, eventually leading to the end and the revelation that Moses does not need to write these mental letters anymore. The letters (and lack of) obviously show the process of Moses' mental healing as he gradually takes control over his life again.

 

I have to agree that Aleck was a very intriguing character, and could have had a book just about him. I think the grittiness of the courtroom scenes was vital to pulling Moses out of his head and back into the world.

But Valentine, to me, was just a fraud and a blowhard and a buffoon, just an actor, as Herzog noted. And a fool too, to be taken in by Madeline. His betrayal of his wife and Herzog merely made him more unlikable.

 

But what makes Moses more interesting than any other character in the book is that he is examining his life, and asking the big questions about it. And there are a whole bunch of other people in this book who should be questioning the assumptions they are making about life.

Edited by Dan
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I should note that this was written in 1964, and the near total lack of pop culture references from that time period seemed interesting to me. That is one of the big things that made me notice its timelessness.

Also, I was not implying that one had to read this slowly to understand or enjoy it. Merely that my understanding and enjoyment level went way up when I did slow down my reading and took time to ponder

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