Monday, June 15, 2015

Humboldt's Gift [1975]

The kind of self-deprecatory humour and wry sense of irony that Saul Bellow possessed – the ability to hold a prying magnifying glass to the foibles, quirks and idiosyncrasies of his own self – is truly a rare trait. In the vein of his celebrated masterpiece Herzog written a decade earlier, the Pulitzer Prize winning Humboldt’s Gift, which contributed to Bellow being conferred with the Nobel Prize in Literature, was a bitingly funny, unabashedly self-mocking and quietly poignant account of the author’s erudite and self-contained alter-ego, and roman à clef too given its fictionalization of Bellow’s friendship with the poet Delmore Schwartz. Mentor-protégé relationship and changing nature of a complex friendship, thus, formed key thematic strands along with reflections on what constitutes as Art, blazing critique on Materialistic America and meditation on the meaninglessness of life and the inevitability of death. The novel, written in a free-flowing style, with the narrative seamlessly jumping back and forth in time and across spaces, dealt with the love-hate relationship between Charlie Citrine, the story’s neurotic and intellectual Chicago-born narrator who earned fame in the form of the Pulitzer and Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur as well as fortune when his play was adapted for the Broadway, but is now financially struggling courtesy an acrimonious divorce proceeding and affair with an attractive but hard-to-please lady, and Von Humboldt Fleisher, a renowned New York poet who’d earned reverence for his brilliance but died an unstable, embittered, penurious and forgotten old man, bound by their shared love for literature. Citrine’s personal and professional crises are further exacerbated by the small-time, unpredictable hoodlum Rinaldo Cantabile who literally thrusts himself upon his life which is already in spectacular disarray. The story alternated between labyrinthine chronicle of Citrine’s past and present, and his stream-of-consciousness commentary on a wide array of topics, including ruminations on Chicago’s changing landscapes and even something as ludicrous as anthroposophy, imbued this dazzling work with deeply personal hues.

Author: Saul Bellow
Genre: Drama/Social Satire/Existentialist Drama/Stream-of-Consciousness
Language: English
Country: US

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