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This is a hard novel to get into. There is the usual Bellovian intellectual overload to be got through, and the eccentricities of the characters are something of a barrier. And then there's the feeling that maybe we've seen Bellow explore the male incomprehension of women once too often. But once you're into it, and have worked out the various relationships and conflicts, it's a rewarding novel not least because it is often very funny.

It's a novel about a man and his uncle. I don't recall having seen that central relationship in a novel before — except maybe Tristram Shandy. Kenneth Trachtenberg is the son Benn Crader never had, and Benn is the father Kenneth perhaps wishes he had had. But there is something a smidge homoerotic about their closeness, too. Since this is Bellow we're talking about, both are intellectuals: Benn is a famous botanist whose only truly passionate relationship is with plants. Kenneth is a junior academic specializing in Russian studies. Benn is a widower remarrying after years of the solitary life; Kenneth has a daughter by a woman who won't marry him. And much of the novel deals with the very peculiar relationships that each has with women who seem to fling themselves at these very odd men.

The central plot deals with Benn's relationship with his younger, beautiful second wife, Matilda, who seems to have married him primarily for his celebrity — she envisions herself presiding over a salon — but also because there is a chance that he can become a millionaire. That involves winning over a shady politician who also happens to Benn's uncle — there are layers of avuncularity in the novel — and who may have cheated Benn and his sister (Kenneth's mother) out of a fortune.

Everybody in the novel wants something — Kenneth wants to marry the mother of his daughter — except Benn, who just wants to be left alone with his plants. And in the course of working things out, Bellow gives us reflections on sex, on death, on marriage, on botany, on being Jewish, on Europe and America, on academia, on law and politics and on the movie Psycho.

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Book info

Release date 08.09.1997
Pages count336
File size2 Mb
eBook formatPaperback, (torrent)En
Book rating3.74 (835 votes)
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