Book news

  • The Life of Saul Bellow by Zachary Leader review – love, sex, friendship as fiction fodder
    John Mullan

    The later years, from 1965 to 2005, of an irreverent philanderer, whose rich, phrase-making novels remained thinly veiled versions of his personal life

    When the first volume of Zachary Leader’s monumental biography of Saul Bellow appeared in 2015, many who loved Bellow’s fiction for its humanity as well as its verbal fireworks were dismayed. What a catalogue of betrayals and revenges! All the worse because Leader wrote as an evident admirer of Bellow’s work and had done his best to explain the novelist’s actions. His endless sexual infidelities were one thing, his use of everyone he knew – especially anyone who had crossed him – as fiction fodder was quite another.

    Things do not get nobler in the second volume, which is as minutely researched and clear-eyed as Leader’s first. It begins with the publication of Herzog, at the end of 1964. The novel had been made out of the collapse of his second marriage to Sasha, who had been having an affair with his friend and academic colleague, Jack Ludwig. Bellow, the incorrigible philanderer, was appalled. In fiction, Sasha became the deadly Madeleine: a monster, though an undeniably vivid monster. Ludwig became the brutish Valentine Gersbach, in Dickensian fashion given a wooden leg for extra measure. Bellow became Herzog, the clever fool, the intellectual chump, the victim.

    Simultaneously, he was beginning an affair with the young mother of a child at school with his son, and having sex with his cleaning lady

    Not just wives, but friends, col­leagues, friends-of-friends, would catch them­selves in the pages of the latest Bellow novel and not often be flattered

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  • I Am Dynamite! by Sue Prideaux review – Nietzsche as we haven't known him before
    Kathryn Hughes

    From love affairs to lost trousers … this sprightly biography considers the episodes that shaped the philosopher’s thinking, and explains why he has been misunderstood

    There are unofficial rules about how a modern biography should begin. To start with the birth or even the death feels increasingly generic and stale. Instead, you are expected to find an incident from the middle years, something dramatic and specific like a lost manuscript, a duel, an accident that leaves your protagonist radically reconfigured. It’s got to be snappy and tense, the sort of thing that makes readers feel that they have landed in the middle of a particularly thrilling heist movie in which it’s unclear whether anyone will get out alive.

    For three years Nietzsche lived with Lou Salomé and his gay best friend in a philosophico-erotic triangle that involved no sex but a lot of Alpine views

    Related: Far right, misogynist, humourless? Why Nietzsche is misunderstood

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  • One Hundred Lyrics and a Poem review – Neil Tennant’s superb songbook
    Kitty Empire

    A collection of Pet Shop Boys lyrics shows off their singer’s erudition and wit

    We know surprisingly little about the inner workings of Neil Tennant, singer of Pet Shop Boys. Instantly recognisable, even without one of the band’s designer hats, he nonetheless remains a cypher: political, but not sloganeering; an almost absurdly stiff-upper-lipped, Earl Grey sort of pop star – at least in public.

    We all know the hits, and why they’re good: this son of Newcastle is, among other things, a noted chronicler of London life (West End Girls, which takes cues from both Grandmaster Flash and TS Eliot), of the rampant excess of the 1980s (Opportunities) and the complexities of relationships, gay, straight and non-sexual. He’s especially good on the drama in the everyday (Suburbia), and lapsed Catholicism (It’s a Sin).

    Related: Pet Shop Boys – 10 of the best

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