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HERZOG by Saul Bellow (1964)
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Plot: Moses Herzog, a twice divorced professor of literature, reviews the mess of his life.

As the novel opens, Herzog has just returned from a five-day trip of self knowledge. While travelling, he aborts a visit to friends, tries to evade his mistress, witnesses a seedy court hearing and hares off to Chicago with a gun. His intention is to kill either his mad, second wife Madeleine or her lover, Gersbach: in doing so, he hopes to rescue his daughter Junie. Instead Herzog takes Junie to an aquarium, but is arrested for carrying a weapon. Bailed by his brother, Herzog returns home.

Theme: Herzog must re-learn the truth of Blake's apothegm: "Opposition is true friendship."

Style: The prose ranges from academic to comic, to achieve moments of transcendence. .

Chief strengths: Bellow faces the "moronic inferno" of contemporary life. Here is an ironic intellectual novel about a learned individual who uses his mind to confront experience.

Chief weakness: At times, the gap between Herzog and Bellow appears exceedingly narrow. The novel could be interpreted as maudlin pseudo-fiction.

What they thought of it: Critical opinion was divided. Newsweek praised the book's "intensity and imaginative fulness"; The New York Times complained that too much was "confused and pretentious."

What we think of it now: Herzog helped Bellow towards his Nobel Prize (1976) and sealed his position as leading American novelist.

Responsible for: Showing that the Great American Novel remains a worthwhile ideal.

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