This portrait of a modern-day hero is the story of Moses Herzog, a great sufferer, joker, moaner and charmer. Although his life has disintegrated around him, Herzog sees himself as a survivor, both of his private disasters and those of the age.
His second wife Madeleine recently ran away with his best friend, taking their young child with her. Herzog is filled with hatred towards her, but, strangely, it is an oddly amiable hatred. He recognises her good qualities, wishes her well in life, and generally doesn't want to ever see her again no matter what. The breakup with her is certainly the pivotal point for his madness, most of the events and thoughts in the novel surround her or the marriage.
Through his letters, Herzog explores his past and previous relationships. A letter to an old school friend will trigger memories of his failed crook of a father, a letter to a favoured philosopher will trigger memories of sleeping late with Madeleine and making love. We are rocketed back and forth, from Europe to America, childhood to adulthood with ease and skill, it never jars, but flows naturally.
Herzog is a very complicated character. He is aware of his own weaknesses, but only some he tries to fix. Others he is comfortable with, safe in the knowledge of what they are. He is a man who, while lacking confidence in some areas, has supreme confidence in who he is as a person. He does come off as arrogant sometimes, but he is aware of it, and to an extent enjoys the mild prestige of being the wise, in-print professor.
The narrator is mostly separate from Herzog, but he follows the professor's erratic, excited, jumpy speech. Occasionally the narrator will slip into the first POV, referring to Herzog as 'I', but this is rare. For the most part, the narrator is fresh, exuberant and in love with life - much like Herzog himself.
By the end of the novel, Herzog is complete. He breathes, lives and walks among us. There is no problem with believing that this is a real person. He has flaws, he has problems, he perhaps philosophises a little too much to be of any practicable use (his words), but by the end of the book, I wouldn't have him any other way.
war on typos: p.302, line 9: "hinding behind the tree trunk" instead of hiding.
p. 227, line 16: "the sinstrument of the soul" instead of instrument.
I am in awe of Bellow's ability to gather together the tiny impressions, thoughts, and actions that compose... Read more