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Humboldt's Gift (1975)
by Saul Bellow
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Bellow is a fantastic prose stylist, but that wasn't enough for me to get past the fact that all of the lead characters are deeply unlikeable and shallow, despite their supposed intellectualism, and I frankly couldn't care at all about what happened to any of them. Perhaps the book has aged badly; it seems rooted very much in a particular time and culture. It took me weeks to get through the first 75% of the book but I did find it more compelling towards the end. ( )
"Death is the dark backing that a mirror needs if we are to see anything."
Humboldt's Gift is a study of a man fighting the world and his inner demons by withdrawing from his life.
Charles Citrine is a successful author who seems to like and trust everybody. As a young man he had travelled across America to meet acclaimed author Von Humboldt Fleischer. They became close friends until Charles's own literary success ruined their relationship. Charles is a decent, generous man, but has a weakness for beautiful women. He has had a number of lovers; one woman is divorcing him, trying to impoverish him in the process, and another desperately wants him to marry her. Charles is in a sad condition but has friends willing to help him out.
Chapters have neither titles nor numbers and the narrative didn't really have a structure. The nature of Humboldt’s gift isn't clear until we have read most of the book and we then discover that it is a real and practical gift, a bequest from his old friend rather than an ironical term.
I found I couldn't empathise with Citrine at all. rather his non-participation, his constant contemplation of life rather than actually living merely left me frustrated. Personally, I found this an exhausting read that needed some serious editing. It was verbose in the extreme, littered with French phrases (un-translated) and obscure literary references that made me feel that Bellow rather than engaging with his readers was simply trying to demonstrate how much smarter than them he is.
Overall, not a great read at all for me.
allusions and asides
Belongs to Publisher Series
Keltainen kirjasto (130)
Is contained in
Bellow: Novels 1970-1982: Mr. Sammler's Planet / Humboldt's Gift / The Dean's December (Library of America) by Saul Bellow
Romanzi 2: 1960-2000 (Herzog; Mr. Sammler's Planet; Humboldt's Gift; A Theft; The Bellarosa Connection; Something to Rmember Me by; Ravelstein) by Saul Bellow
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Wikipedia in English (1)
Charlie Citrine, suffering from steadily worsening troubles with women, career, and life in general, receives unexpected aid and comfort in the form of a belated bequest from his onetime friend and mentor, the poet Von Humboldt Fleisher.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.52Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1900-1944
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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.