Tuesday, August 19, 2003


by Saul Bellow

JAMES says:

What do you call a novel without a plot? Well, if you’re Saul Bellow you call it Herzog. Some guy bums around a bit, and thinks a lot. But, that isn’t to say it’s not worth reading. Admittedly it was a chore, something to inch through a few pages at a time until your concentration has given up. Like some books of this ilk I was forced to read at uni, however, I’m glad I’ve read it. This was one to read to get something out other than enjoyment, and what I got was an insight into a different kind of mind. What it lacks in a story it makes up for in the fully realised character of Moses Herzog, the lead of the book. Herzog is a respected but worn out scholar whose wife has just left him for his best friend. And does he go on about it. As you’d expect from someone of his brain power, he overanalyses it all, and the novel forms a recollection of the relationship and its breakdown. This is all related to his worldview as expressed by letters he obsessively writes to people, both living and dead. These combine to allow you into the characters mind to a great degree, and this is the reason why I kept at this novel even through the most dense and trying bits.

It is the human tragedy that, however close we get to other people, we can never know what it’s like to be them, to see how their thoughts work. How can we judge, govern, advise other people, when all we know is the world as we see it? We don’t know if they interpret the world, if their thought process, even if the way they see colours is the same as us. Art is the only way we can hope to get more of an insight into other people, and that is why this book works. I will never be as smart as Herzog, nor as introverted, nor hopefully as plain loopy. However, after reading this book, I have an idea of what it would be like if I was.


Buy on Amazon: Herzog (Penguin Modern Classics)

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