Written in Bellow's 85th year, Ravelstein is a novel that goes everywhere, does everything and does it in style. It is part novel, part autobiography and part biography (of the late, great political philosopher Alan Bloom - aka Abe Ravelstein). It is also a love letter to his readers, his students (at the University of Chicago) and to his then defunct friend Bloom. The book fulminates - mixing history, philosophy, opinion, and details about places and people which are rich and intoxicating. Sometimes the references are common knowledge, sometimes they are obscure and sometimes they are downright, maddeningly impenetrable. No matter - read on! Ravelstein and the narrator (Chick) tease out of their past association, moments that have shaped their lives and are now helping them crystallize their ideas on old age, death and faith.
For me, Ravelstein has served to remind me of the Pangle lectures (a student and colleague of Alan Bloom) I attended as an undergraduate. It has also led me to investigate the Straussian controversy in American academia: who's labeling whom what? and what wickedness did Leo Strauss (philosophical father of Bloom and Pangle) bring with him from the German academy in 1937?
Who knows what Bellow intended but he certainly succeeded in producing an erudite, difficult and often comic final great novel.