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Ravelstein by Saul Bellow


Ravelstein by Saul Bellow
I sat down several times after finishing Ravelstein to attempt a review of sorts. In my lunch hour at work, I couldn’t resist the lure of CTRL+TAB to see if any interesting flotsam had washed up amid the tide of mediocrity in my Outlook in-box. The open-plan office, too, serves up many tasty distractions and diversions to upset the clean palate of concentrated thought. I think I got the title down on a blank Word document before remembering I’d not washed my cafetière and had only ten minutes left to eat a banana and make another coffee before my one thirty meeting.

At home, I grabbed an old but as yet unfulfilled notebook and a cheap pink biro with the imperative to “Use Your Vote” only to be frustrated by necessary tidying, dusting and vacuuming and, by then, the lateness of the hour and the requirement to get at least 4 hours of sleep in before my next working day.

I suspect were I to attempt to throw my hands up and declaim the pathos of my existence I would be firmly rebuked from the pages of this fine novel.

Ravelstein, for all the glowing literary hyperbole gold-embossed on the back cover is a profoundly affecting and yet accessible novel, and Bellow’s perspicacity has furnished old Abe with such a powerful charisma that even viewed thrice removed (via Chick, his biographer, through the veil of death and by virtue of being a work of fiction – although loosely based on Bellow’s erstwhile colleague Allan Bloom) I could imagine him barking at me that my inability to find time to write is a manifestation of my fear that to accept such a challenge would be the beating of me and as such procrastination is a defensive mechanism that renders me dull and predictable.  Plus, no doubt, I would be treated to an impromptu but nonetheless well-rehearsed-sounding lecture on the true nature of pathos with many, many references to the literature of Ancient Greece – in Greek no less. If, that is, in the improbable likelihood that I made it into his circle of influence in the first place.
Bellow creates a multi-faceted and vivid portrait of a man that, even filtered through the eyes and reminiscences of friend Chick, has the power to infect and inhabit the memory long after the book is closed.  If it is possible to imagine a friendship with a character from literature I might just push Ravelstein into the room with old pals Kilgore Trout and Ignatius J Reilly and serve them with café serrés as they fill my ears, heart and mind with voluminous and bitter argument.

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