Jill's take on Herzog by Saul Bellow
I'm going to start by saying that Herzog by Saul Bellow felt like it took me forever to read. In reality it just took longer than usual, but damn it was a slog. I persisted in reading a book I had such mixed feelings about because I was interested in most of the story. I truly enjoyed the moments when Bellow was really telling the story of the man Herzog and his life. The problem was that at points in the book, this kind of story telling was few and far between. It felt like Bellow would go on for ages on some tangent regarding something intellectual, political or whatever that just didn't move the character or plot along.
In the book, Herzog is experiencing a few crises in his life. In doing so, he finds himself writing letters to various people without ever intending to send them. He also seems to be writing just for himself and kind of having mental diarrhea all over the place. These writings and "outward processing" is where the academia, intellectualizing and politicizing came in. I will admit to many of these tangents being over my head (I didn't know who or what Bellow was talking about) but that wasn't the thing that kept me from liking these parts. They just felt unnecessary and I wasn't quite sure why Bellow felt the need to write about some of this shit in the first place. But then he would get back to the characters of the main plot and use amazingly descriptive language to keep the reader involved.
There were several times when I thought I was just going to put the book down and not complete it, but then just at that moment, I would be drawn back in by some development or other in the story. Then he'd hit me again with tangents and I would skim through those until I got to something that I found more interesting.
Overall, I wouldn't read this again and I would cautiously tell someone else to read it. I gave caution to Zac before he started it. We'll see how he goes...
Zac's take on Herzog by Saul Bellow
I want to like Saul Bellow. I really do. He's got many makings of an author I love - the timeframe, the local Chicago history and references and then there are the sentences. His sentences and descriptions of characters are so so brilliant. It's easy to see the person he talks about both physically and then in these sidelong glances where their inner being is revealed through what they are doing and how they do it. Bellow really is the master when it comes to this.
But he DID go off the rails with this one. It seemed more like an exercise in stream of consciousness that was becoming all the rage than it was a novel in the classic Bellow sense. Moments where Herzog is sitting on a bus in Manhattan going to get fitted for a suit to take to a beach holiday or interacting with the salesman are brilliant. They capture a time and place we can no longer visit except for in print and on the screen. But when Herzog, whose mind seems to be in freefall, veers off into academia and is skywriting letters to people we don't know is where I gave up. Which is to say I gave up pretty quickly. I knew what slog was ahead of me thanks to Jill and I just wasn't interested.