Friday, November 30, 2018

Ugh, This Guy


I've written before about my dislike for the picaresque novel, so I'm going to skip that part. Rest assured, my opinion hasn't changed.

My sojourn into Saul Bellow's novel Henderson the Rain King was a long slog through a novel that the reviews assure me is a "hilarious, often ribald story [that] is also a profound look at the forces that drive a man through life" (thanks, Amazon) and has "a flaming ideal quality [that] makes me want to crash into the world, go blundering, go shoving" (thanks, New York Times).

If this sort of tale captures whatever it is that drives a man and restores his enthusiasm for zestful living, no wonder the world is populated with entitled, egocentric jerks.

Okay! I feel better for having said that.

On the other hand, if you like this sort of thing, you'll like this book. Henderson is an American millionaire, larger and richer than life, who blunders his way through a couple of marriages, some parenting episodes, a pig farm, and assorted other adventures, and then heads out for Africa for more of the same. The Africans he meets are stereotypes and his adventures there cast him in the role of White Savior to varying degrees. (This doesn't come off as much racist as white man's fantasy -- Bellow never even went to Africa -- although it hasn't aged well.) Henderson ends up winning a demonstration of strength and obtaining the title of Sungo, and that single word was my favorite part of the whole messy story. (Get it? Sun Go = Rain King.) He also obtains the friendship of the local Western-educated chieftain and winds up participating in a philosophical experiment that involves a lion and the traditional ceremonies surrounding the arc of the chief's reign. It's all oversized and outlandish and in the later pages, filled with high-toned ramblings about Being versus Becoming.

I would have enjoyed it more if old Henderson wasn't such a jerk.

This book was published in 1959 (I read it for the Birth Year Reading Challenge) and the various covers over the year have been pretty spectacular.

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Henderson the Rain King: Bellow, Saul

Excerpt:

And I got to my feet, and there were loud shrieks and screams. I thought, "The word has got around how I dealt with that corpse. They know I'm no Caspar Milquetoast but a person of strength and courage. Plenty of moxie." I was beginning to feel the spirit of the occasion--pervaded by barbaric emotions--the scratchiness in my bosom was greatly aggravated. I had no words to speak, no mortar or bazooka to fire, replying to the guns of the amazons. But I was impelled to make a sound, and therefore I uttered a roar like the great Assyrian bull. You know, to be the center of attention in a crowd always stirs and disturbs me. . . . In a big gathering my father also had a tendency to become excited. He once lifted up the speaker's stand and threw it down into the orchestra pit.

However, I roared. And the acclaim was magnificent. For I was heard. I was seen gripping my chest as I bellowed. The crowd went wild over this, and its yells were, I have to admit it, just like nourishment to me.    

Note: I read this book for the Birth Year Reading Challenge. It also counts toward the Mount TBR Reading Challenge

2 comments:

Talk to me! I love external validation.