The Revenant: A Love Letter to America

Review: Bob Dylan’s new book is revealing, misogynistic and a special kind of bonkers

By James Fenton

5 December 2009

Bob Dylan’s new book, The Revenant, is out in a few days. It came out at a moment in the American rock and popular culture when Dylan’s songs and lyrics are increasingly being seen as an expression of the mood of the times, and as an act of political resistance.

Dylan has always had the courage to stand alone against the current, and the Revenant is his most forthright expression to date of the importance of what he has to say. It is also an extraordinary book which can be interpreted in dozens of different ways. For my part, I see it as a love letter to the American state, a love letter to America, and a warning about this country.

Here is an extract from one review that struck me at first reading: “He is no longer young, perhaps, but he looks it. He looks strong enough to survive, he does not look old. And he looks it with a clarity that suggests that the hard reality of life has become more real to him than it was a decade or two ago.”

I’m only slightly more surprised by that last line than by the rest. I don’t think Dylan is a “young man” any more, but he can’t be more than 50 years old. He looks strong enough to survive, but he has obviously been through an extremely difficult time which left him physically and mentally drained.

The book is also a love letter to America—not just in the context of the US’s history or the war in Iraq, with which it has to be read in relation, but in the sense of a nation, a set of citizens, a people.

The Revenant is based around the figure of Hugh Glass, the man who shot Bob Dylan and

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