Saturday 15 June 2019

Seize the Day Again

Seize the Day was, I think, the first Saul Bellow I ever read. This would be back in the Seventies some time, when Bellow was little more than a name to me (though, years before, I had noticed my intellectual uncle reading Dangling Man). I was certainly impressed by Seize the Day – impressed enough to read Mr Sammler's Planet when I came across it. And after that I rapidly became a devoted reader, devouring all the novels and most of the short stories, and finding the experience hugely exhilarating. However, I have reread less of Bellow than of most of the novelists I've loved; some of his longer works seem frankly daunting now, demanding a lot of intellectual energy and readerly stamina (indeed some, I think, could profitably have been trimmed down). However, Seize the Day I have certainly reread more than once – most recently in December 2008, as I know from a barely legible restaurant receipt I found, serving as a bookmark, in my Penguin Classics copy (Introduction by Cynthia Ozick). And now I have reread it again. 
  Suffice to say, it did not disappoint. It is surely one of the great short novels of the 20th century. The failed and fading charmer Tommy Wilhelm, whose day of reckoning the novel chronicles, is one of Bellow's most compelling creations, and he is well balanced by his vain, successful and self-protective father, and the philosophising con man, 'Dr' Tamkin, whose strange charisma Tommy cannot resist, though he knows him to be a fraud. The Fifties New York settings against which the action plays out are vividly evoked in some of the most extraordinary passages of the book, the whole of which is infused with tremendous, passionate, but always controlled energy, driving events to an unforgettable climax. It's a wonderful read, a wonderful reread, I think a true classic.

1 comment:

  1. I've just read that V.S. Pritchett described Seize the Day as 'a small grey masterpiece'.