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... was nonsensical. But there are a great many people who had their pieces already prepared: bye bye Bellow. However, I did not oblige them by biting the dust – at least I don’t think I did. I’m going to be under fire until I am a reverend senior, if I live long enough to join the Robert Frost category. I’ll be all right, but at the moment it’s still ...

They don’t say that about Idi Amin

Andrew O’Hagan: Bellow Whinges, 6 January 2011

Saul BellowLetters 
edited by Benjamin Taylor.
Viking, 571 pp., $35, November 2010, 978 0 670 02221 2
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... with self-concern, and we will often see this distinguished person most clearly in his letters. Saul Bellow knew the type very well and we meet one of them in the shape of Moses Herzog, the eponymous hero of Bellow’s sixth novel, a helpless, epistolary nutcase who yawps as if his nappies were as heavy as his ...

Bad Character

Andrew O’Hagan: Saul Bellow, 21 May 2015

The Life of Saul BellowTo Fame and Fortune, 1915-64 
by Zachary Leader.
Cape, 812 pp., £35, May 2015, 978 0 224 08467 3
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... On​ his deathbed, Saul Bellow asked a question of himself that he might have asked at the time of his first novel and his first marriage: ‘Was I a man or a jerk?’ You could say it’s a good question for anyone to ask, especially someone who wrote 18 books and had five wives. Next to Norman Mailer, who did equally well on the spouse-mongering front, Bellow was a worker of slow, monkish application, always tied, seldom happily, to a university department, and agonising over a book ...

The Unstoppable Upward

James Wolcott: ‘The Life of Saul Bellow’, 24 January 2019

The Life of Saul BellowLove and Strife, 1965-2005 
by Zachary Leader.
Cape, 864 pp., £35, November 2018, 978 0 224 10188 2
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... In​ autumn 2000, the critic, memoirist and biographer James Atlas brought forth a Life of Saul Bellow that augured to be the literary event of the season, a crowning glory for author and subject. Bellow: A Biography was Atlas’s highly anticipated successor to his wunderkind biography of the brilliant, bedevilled Delmore Schwartz, whose combustible presence served as the inspiration for Von Humboldt Fleisher in Bellow’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Humboldt’s Gift ...

Sensitive Sauls

Nicholas Spice, 5 July 1984

Him with his foot in his mouth, and Other Stories 
by Saul Bellow.
Alison Press/Secker, 294 pp., £8.95, June 1984, 0 436 03953 2
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... exponent of the disorientation of European consciousness in 20th-century America has been Saul Bellow, who stands in relation to this theme rather as Henry James did in relation to the impact of Europe on American consciousness. The mourning of old Europe (Europe before the slaughter) and old America (America before Burger King), and the attempt ...

International Tale

John Banville, 30 March 1989

A Theft 
by Saul Bellow.
Penguin, 128 pp., £3.95, March 1989, 0 14 011969 8
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... the author blazons the name of his heroine – Clara Velde – like a declaration of intent. Bellow always opens bravely, plunging his readers into the midst of things, and if the bravery sometimes strikes us as mere bravado (as for example, with Augie March’s ‘I am an American ...’), the headlong stride of the style, its weight and energy, sweep ...

The Egg-Head’s Egger-On

Christopher Hitchens: Saul Bellow keeps his word (sort of), 27 April 2000

Ravelstein 
by Saul Bellow.
Viking, 254 pp., £16.99, April 2000, 0 670 89131 2
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... dilettante, good in a pinch, and soft on poets, but too easily embarrassed by brute exigence. Saul Bellow – who has already shown a vulnerability to exigent poets in his wonderful Humboldt’s Gift – now presents us with Ravelstein, a hedonistic kvetch who manifests patience towards none. As is known to all but the meanest citizens of the ...

Soul Bellow

Craig Raine, 12 November 1987

More die of heartbreak 
by Saul Bellow.
Alison Press/Secker, 335 pp., £10.95, October 1987, 0 436 03962 1
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... it can also disable and enslave the subsequent generation of writers. In To Jerusalem and Back, Saul Bellow notes that ‘in every generation we recognise a leader race of masterminds whose ideas (“class-struggle”, “Oedipus complex”, “identity crisis”) come down over us like butterfly nets.’ This insight applies to artists as well as ...

A Regular Bull

Christopher Hitchens, 31 July 1997

Whittaker Chambers: A Biography 
by Sam Tanenhaus.
Random House, 640 pp., $35, February 1997, 0 394 58559 3
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... I once had the luck to meet the great Saul Bellow, who in the course of the evening told me the following story. In 1945 he had been engaged as a book reviewer for Henry Luce’ Time magazine. Or he thought he had been so engaged. When he turned up for work, he was informed that Whittaker Chambers, chief Pooh-Bah of the ‘back of the book’, wished to see him ...

The Moronic Inferno

Martin Amis, 1 April 1982

The Dean’s December 
by Saul Bellow.
Secker, 312 pp., £7.95, March 1982, 0 436 03952 4
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... people really exist, in our minds or anywhere else, with such leadenly humdrum, such dead names?). Saul Bellow’s inventions are Dickensian in their resonance and relish. But they also have a dialectical point to make. British critics tend to regard the American predilection for Big Novels as a vulgar neurosis – like the American predilection for big ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: ‘The Trip to Echo Spring’, 12 September 2013

... as her study shows, it becomes a reality of its own. ‘Inspiration contained a death threat,’ Saul Bellow said in his introduction to John Berryman’s novel Recovery. ‘He would, as he wrote the things he had waited and prayed for, fall apart. Drink was a stabiliser. It somewhat reduced the fatal intensity.’ But ...

His Generation

Keith Gessen: A Sad Old Literary Man, 19 June 2008

Alfred Kazin: A Biography 
by Richard Cook.
Yale, 452 pp., £25, March 2008, 978 0 300 11505 5
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... Jack London, Dos Passos, Hemingway, Steinbeck. He was announcing – as his exact contemporary Saul Bellow would announce a decade later in The Adventures of Augie March – a new addition to the canon of American sensibility. But the cost would be high. Kazin’s memoir of this time, Starting Out in the Thirties, which begins with the primal scene of ...

Diary

Ian Hamilton: It's a size thing, 19 September 1985

... and he needed almost no encouragement at all to play his queen-wasp act right to the limit: Oh, Saul Bellow is a nothing writer. He doesn’t exist. Tell me one book of Saul Bellow that’s in any way memorable, even a chapter that’s memorable. I’ve always liked ‘Henderson the Rain King’ for one. Oh ...

Diary

Ian Hamilton: Francis Hope, and Tom and Vic, 15 March 1984

... So far, the message seems to be that five one-thousand-word pieces on five separate novels by Saul Bellow don’t actually add up to a five-thousand-word appraisal. In the meantime, though, I’ve been reminded just how good Francis Hope was as a reviewer: deft, sardonic and wide-ranging, valuably unenchantable throughout the dopey Sixties. Francis ...

Irishtown

D.A.N. Jones, 1 November 1984

Ironweed 
by William Kennedy.
Viking, 227 pp., £7.95, September 1984, 0 670 40176 5
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In Custody 
by Anita Desai.
Heinemann, 204 pp., £9.95, October 1984, 9780434186358
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Flaubert’s Parrot 
by Julian Barnes.
Cape, 190 pp., £8.50, October 1984, 0 241 11374 1
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... Irish town. Ironweed has won the Pulitzer Prize, after being rejected by 13 publishers. Saul Bellow urged the Viking Press to publish it, since he admired Kennedy’s other Albany novels, Legs and Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game: both these books have now been re-published as Penguin paperbacks.* The first is about the Albany gangster, Jack ...

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