A Fine Vintage: Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow

on Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Saul Bellow... Nobel laureate. Prose stylist extraordinaire. Dapper literary scenester. Hoarder of awards. And, yep I'm gonna call it, massive fraud! Look, sorry, I have tried to like him. I want to like him. I have read a fair few of his books - Dangling Man, The Victim, Ravelstein, Herzog, The Actual, Seize The Day. And yet, every time I go there I find myself bored senseless. Sure, the writing is always impeccable. His sentences stun me. But brush aside the smoke and mirrors and there isn't a great deal to be found. Just my luck, then, that 1976 was Bellow's year. He won both the Nobel and Pulitzer. If my birth was a big practical joke on the world, then Bellow's accolades that year were a big practical joke on me because, all these years later, I find myself forced to revisit this shyster one more excruciating time thanks to my penchant for self-indulgence. A Fine Vintage indeed... At least the book in question was his supposed comic masterpiece Humboldt's Gift. I was hesitantly excited, though I should have realised I would be in for more of the same given that the hagiographic introduction was penned by Martin Amis, the great master of disappearing up his own arse. To be fair Humboldt's Gift started off well enough. The tale of a successful writer's tumultuous relationship with his far less successful hero, the book had me laughing out loud a few times early on. But then, slowly, the good ol' Bellow I know and don't love worked his way back up through the wisecracks and I began to wish one of the smart-talkin' mafioso types who kept hijacking Charlie Citrine's life would step out of the book and shoot me. At least, for once in a Saul Bellow novel, a lot happens but the greater message is overshadowed by the far-too-present ghost of its author. I know it is supposed to be loosely autobiographical but I just wish Bellow could have set his characters free. Even just a little bit. But no, he had to go postal with his heavy-handed, mundane-malletted sledgehammer. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the misanthropy. I enjoyed the bumbling rollercoaster that is Charlie Citrine's personal life. I just don't enjoy Saul Bellow. Go on, crucify me! Bah, Humboldt!


Anonymous said...

Did you notice the book is virtually identical to Herzog? Fraud x 2!

The Bookworm said...

But in letter form... Fancy!

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