Humboldt's Gift (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 27 Sep 2007
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About the Author
Saul Bellow's dazzling career as a novelist has been marked with numerous literary prizes, including the 1976 Nobel Prize, and the Gold Medal for the Novel. His other books include Dangling Man, The Adventures of Augie March, Herzog, More Die of Heartbreak, Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories, Mr Sammler's Planet, Seize The Day and The Victim. Saul Bellow died in 2005.
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Top Customer Reviews
First I noted the humour. I remembered its being an amusing book, but never as hilarious as I found it so many years on. I reflected on whether I had truly understood some of the references, and on how much more I identified with the book having travelled to some of the places mentioned - Texas, Chicago, New York, Madrid. The whole thing was so much less abstract, so I felt more able to immerse myself in the characterisation, without the need to expend energy trying to imagine what these places looked like.
It was the characterisation that really stood out, from the outwardly bullish but inwardly sheepish Charlie Citrine, and his scheming girlfriend Renata and her conspiratorial mother; the minor hoodlum Cantabile and his academic girlfriend Polly; and on to the tragic Humboldt himself, long deceased by the time of the book's opening but a constant, spectral presence throughout. Finally, the roguish Thaxter, Citrine's "business partner", a man who may well have inspired the leadership of Enron.
In addition, some of the vocabulary surprised me. For example, "leveraged". Had I registered the word back in the seventies? I guessed not. It's a word I'd associated with management consultants, financial derivatives and the eighties.Read more ›
I read this novel because of a quotation from it that prefaces an excellent book by Stan Cohen and Laurie Taylor called “Escape Attempts: The Theory and Practice of Resistance to Everyday Life”. This is a quotation:
“For me the self-conscious ego is the seat of boredom. This increasing, swelling, domineering, painful self-consciousness is the only rival of the political and social powers that run my life (business, technological-bureaucratic powers, the state). You have a great organised movement of life, and you have a single self, independently conscious, proud of its detachment and its absolute immunity, its stability and its power to remain unaffected by anything whatsoever-by the sufferings of others or by society or by politics or by external chaos. In a way it doesn’t give a damn. It’s asked to give a damn, and we often urge it to give a damn but the curse of none caring lies upon this painfully free consciousness. It is free from attachment to beliefs and two other souls. Cosmologies, ethical systems?Read more ›
The rambling plot which switches back and forth in Charlie’s mind is mainly a framework for Saul Bellow’s astonishing prose, a mind-blowing stream of consciousness, with punctuation (minus commas between adjectives, an interesting technique). This is leavened by many very funny descriptions and dialogues, which may atone for any irritation over yet another novel by a writer about writers, and for Bellow’s casual cultural references which require everyone who is not an American with an encyclopaedic general knowledge to either break the rhythm of reading to look them up, or remain in ignorance.
The humour also serves as an antidote to Citrine’s philosophical musings about the state of the soul, the existence of an after-life and the decline of American society by the 1970s into consumerism and banality. Citrine’s monologues, which tend to be made more digestible for the reader by frequent mocking or teasing interruptions, generally from female lovers past and present, suggest that his ideas are underdeveloped, even confused. Yet this may be intentional, since Bellow himself seems to have changed his opinions substantially over his long life spent reflecting on the meaning of life.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Pithy, witty and earthy the book sometimes wanders off into philosophical musings that are over intricate. Read morePublished on 10 Nov. 2013 by Roger Williams
Having enjoyed "Seize the Day" I thought why not give his Pulitzer Prize winner a go? In short there is a plot buried in here but garnished with acres of turgid prose when the... Read morePublished on 4 April 2012 by Caterkiller
Humboldt's Gift is what I would call a typical 1970's American novel. Not the happiest decade for the USA. Read morePublished on 4 April 2011 by Lyamshin
Very well worth reading if you care at all about Bellow - his style is involved and intricate, but worth the effort, and his plotting may best be described as episodic picaresque -... Read morePublished on 6 Nov. 2010 by William Jordan
This is a difficult book to categorize. On the back cover is a quote from the San Francisco Examiner: 'funny, vibrant, ironic, self-mocking and wise' and all of these it certainly... Read morePublished on 24 Sept. 2010 by Phil O'Sofa