Saturday, November 24, 2007

My first Saul Bellow book

It took me an incredibly long time to get through this tale, not because it was in any way displeasing, but rather because it was hard to read much of it at a time: Saul Bellow's main character, Charlie Citrine, has a mind that is working all the time, and much of what he says and thinks are hard to follow. I think this was intentional, because most of Citrine's friends and family also had a hard time knowing what to make of him.

Charlie Citrine has a long and intense friendship with a poet, Von Humboldt Fleisher, which affects his emotional life very much. After watching Fleisher die a failure, Citrine suffers an array of feelings about his own success as a writer and his philosophy about death and a possible afterlife. In fact, he's a bit obsessed with these topics.

Besides his spiritual crises, Charlie also has legal ones. His ex-wife is suing him, while an inappropriately chosen girlfriend is bleeding him financially, too. In addition, there are a couple other interesting characters standing in line to take advantage of Charlie while he's distracted by the women in his life. Between his ex-wife and conniving, gold-digging girl friend, Citrine is about to become completely broke.

Charlie Citrine is exquisitely crafted; the reader knows him well long before the end of this 487-page book. He is a very sympathetic sort, a man extensively educated in a literary way, but who doesn't know a pansy from a crocus, a man not quite equipped to survive in the real world, and would not have, had it not been for Humboldt's posthumous gift.

Humboldt leaves Citrine a legacy that saves him in an ironic way. Humboldt had been all about the beauty of art, and not commercial success, yet the gift Humboldt leaves his friend leads to still more commercial success for Citrine. This time, however, there are high hopes for Citrine to live a simpler and saner life.

This was an intriguing book, and I enjoyed the writing style.

From Wikipedia:

Humboldt's Gift is a 1975 novel by Saul Bellow, which won the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and contributed to Bellow's winning the Nobel Prize in Literature the same year.


Doug said...

That's an intriguing review, actually. I enjoyed the only book of Bellow's I've read, Herzog which has to feature some of the most sympathetic creepy people in literature.

TLP said...

Nice review! (As usual) Did you know that Doug linked to you on his today's post?

david mcmahon said...

I've just finished writing my second novel and you've inspired me to go and read this one by Saul Bellow.

Jamie Dawn said...

I'm here via Doug's link. :-)
Citrine sure had some woman troubles!
The gift of bleeding men dry just comes naturally to most women.

Minka said...

hmmm...after a Semester fo intense reading, 500 pages during my winter break seem scary...for now. But the story does appeal to me. We'll see about this one!