There is something about Bellow’s first person narrator / observer which draws you into “Ravelstein”; it seems to me that you are both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ simultaneously. This elongated pen-picture of Ravelstein, laid out by his close friend Chick, is undoubtedly all sorts of things: colourful, expansive, amusing, ironic, submissive… Indeed, the list of adjectives which you might choose to apply to it could be pretty much endless. It is, of course, largely the memoir Chick has promised to write for Ravelstein, but never gets around to starting.
And in parts it is supremely well-written. Some of the section at the end, with Chick at death’s door, is occasionally remarkable.
But having said that, I found myself too often dug in the ribs by unnecessary repetition, being told over – and over – the same fact, having the same opinion shared. Most of the time I got it the first time, thank you. (Or perhaps the second…) And I was conscious of the occasional inconsistency. For example, at the end we are told (more than once!) that Rosamund is slim – yet I am sure when she was first introduced to us early in the novel she was painted entirely differently. [I could have gone back to check, but couldn’t be bothered to try and find the passage concerned – so I may be wrong…]
In the end – and it spite of its ‘rambling’ nature – I liked the book; but I can’t help thinking, had it been ‘tighter’ in places (or better edited), I could have liked it a whole lot more…