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HALL OF FAMEon 20 December 2002
Other than this novel I have read only the recent collection of stories by Mr. Bellow. After reading many other reviews I felt as though if one were not aware of all the parallels of fact and metaphor that this book contains, a person would feel left out of the circle. I hope no one feels this way for even though I read this as a stand alone work without detailed knowledge of the author, his real life friends and their philosophical tilts, the book is a great piece of writing. Saul Bellow is considered one of the great writers on most people's list of favorites, so while knowing all the background may make the book a richer experience; on its own it stands beautifully.

This memoir about a writer who cannot write a memoir is full of philosophy, condemnation of anything other than the elevated thoughts of the day, and centers on a character who you will loathe, struggle to empathize with, or perhaps even like. Abe Ravelstein is a man who has made the ends of his life meet by constantly borrowing from one Peter to pay another Paul. When he does comes into substantial funds whatever joy the money gives him is limited as he is terminally ill.

There are a few ways a person can use their wealth especially when they know their time is severely limited. Abe becomes a modern day Bacchus; everything he does is to excess. And everyone around him sits at his knee, loathes him, or manipulates him into a demonstrable token of his affection, like a 75,000 BMW. The exception is, of course, the would be biographer who sees all of his friends excess and stands by him until the end. This does not stop him from occasionally describing behavior that goes beyond the extravagant to become plain ugly. In Paris he will spend 4,500 dollars on a new sport coat walk to the nearest café and proceed to dribble coffee down the front. He barely notices and when he does is unmoved.

Whether this is your first book by Mr. Bellow or not, have no fear. The book is wonderful stuff compared to much of what is on offer even is aficionados of his work may not find it his best.
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on 24 January 2006
My first Saul Bellow novel and, well, it was hard going. There is no denying that he has wonderful command of language and some of his metaphors are beautiful. Some sections need to be read again because they are so well written...but.
Its just a bit all over the place, with no real direction. I felt as a reader that the journey I was taking was somewhat aimless and because Ravelstein is such an unsympathetic character I found I didn't really care where that was. The relationship between the narrator and Ravelstein is labored and feels one sided and uncharacteristic. I could never picture those two people together legitimately and that became a problem for me.
In the end I felt that if this man were to be remembered with affection then this wouldn't be the right epitaph. I am going to read more Bellow, as he is regarded as one of the giants of modern literature, but I found this novel to be a drag.
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on 16 December 2003
This memoir is disappointing. Up to one third of the text was written about the life of Chick instead of the supposedly main character Abe Ravelstein. We learn a great deal about Chick including his relationship with his ex-wife, his love for his current wife, and of course his near death experience (which was recorded in the finest detail). In contrast, we learn little about the ailing Ravelstein - did Abe try to fight his condition or did he simply accept he was dying? We learn almost nothing about Nikki apart from his passion for watching late night TV.
I think Bellow has missed the point of the memoir - what Ravelstein should document is the life, eccentricities, philosophies and achievements of Abe Ravelstein. Instead, Bellow drones on about Chick's love for Rosamund, his failed relationship with his ex-wife and other topics that have no direct relationship with Abe. In the end I think it is a fair comment that readers are almost confused as to who this book is really about - Abe or Chick? Do we really want to know how much Chick feels he owes his life to Rosamund? Do we want to know about his doctor and the ICU? Do we even want to know about his recovery (given that this book is meant to be about Abe)? Perhaps in brief detail, but definitely not over a few chapters!
Having said all that there are some sections of the book where Bellow conveys a very clear picture of Abe Ravelstein. Unfortunately towards the final few chapters Ravelstein seems to drop completely out of focus that's all.
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on 16 May 2003
i just couldn't get into this book and i'm a very determined reader. i wouldn't say it was badly written but i think it was not what i expected from reviews. a bit too sanitary and traditional for my likeing. but then i didn't read all of it, i'm ashamed to say.
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on 19 February 2008
This novel is heavily autobiographical, and its main attraction for me was in the thinly-disguised depictions of Leo Strauss (Davarr) and Allan Bloom (Ravelstein). It is valuable as a self-portrait of the neoconservative circles that were about to come to power in America at the time it was written.

The literary interest was secondary for me, but while the main characters are fairly unsympathetic, I did find myself taking an interest in the fate of the narrator, Chick, (whose story is really Bellow's own.)
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on 28 August 2003
Having read many of Bellow's books, this is in my eyes one of his best. Not only in the way it is written but also through its content. Every page is just a pure delight from an artistic, human and narrative perspective. It is heavy, for sure, but so much worth it!! It is one of these books which is so unique that it will probably take me another year of avid reading to find something as well written which is equally inspiring and funny.
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on 16 September 2014
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on 8 June 2001
My strict requirement for conformity made me want to simplify this book, by some re-ordering with a chronological concept. But then I am just a poor reader while Saul Bellow can write an experience which wrapped around me like a tangled bedsheet.
My one nugget to keep and treasure relates to Vela, the narrators first wife. I am sure you will recognise it when you read it, and the thought of it will 'tickle' me for decades, but them I am also uxorial!
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