Literature, Reviews

How many Lee Siegels are there?

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Published last week, Lee Siegel’s newest book, Love and the Incredibly Old Man: A Novel scores a long and appreciative review in the April 18th edition of the Times Literary Supplement. Remarking on the unique autobiographical element of Siegel’s fiction Stephen Burn’s article begins:

Students of American writing have to distinguish between two Lee Siegels. Perhaps the more famous of the two is the New York critic Siegel, who was suspended from the New Republic in 2006 when it was discovered that he had been posting comments on the internet proclaiming his own brilliance. Oddly enough, the other, currently less famous Siegel—who is a professor of religion at the University of Hawaii—has also spent the last ten years writing about himself. His four inventive and amusing novels feature a character, Lee Siegel, who, the author complains, “has consistently tried to pass himself off as me.”…
His new novel, Love and the Incredibly Old Man, belongs somewhere in the middle of a continuum running from the experiments of his first two novels to the more transparent style of Who Wrote the Book of Love?, but like all the earlier works it involves a story received from an old man. In this instance the elderly gentleman is extremely elderly: he claims to be Ponce de Léon who, having lived on the waters of the Fountain of Youth for nearly 500 years, now seeks a ghostwriter to record his story before he dies. Having been impressed by references to Ponce in Siegel’s fiction, the conquistador hires the novelist to write his life.…
Siegel’s achievement is to persuade the reader to care about such a self-involved, and possibly delusional character while staging jokes at his expense and displaying his own verbal dexterity. A creative attitude to the novel is in abundant evidence across all Siegel’s fiction; and this new novel is a worthy addition to a body of work which deserves a wider audience.

Read an excerpt from the book.