The Blazing World
From the internationally bestselling author, praised for her “beguiling, lyrical prose” (The Sunday Times Review, UK), comes a brilliant, provocative novel about an artist, Harriet Burden, who after years of being ignored by the art world conducts an experiment: she conceals her female identity behind three male fronts.
Presented as a collection of texts, edited and introduced by a scholar years after the artist’s death, the book unfolds through extracts from Burden’s notebooks and conflicting accounts from others about her life and work. Even after she steps forward to reveal herself as the force behind three solo shows, there are those who doubt she is responsible for the last exhibition, initially credited to the acclaimed artist Rune. No one doubts the two artists were involved with each other. According to Burden’s journals, she and Rune found themselves locked in a charged and dangerous psychological game that ended with the man’s bizarre death.
From one of the most ambitious and internationally celebrated writers of her generation, Hustvedt’s The Blazing World is a polyphonic tour de force. It is also an intricately conceived, diabolical puzzle that addresses the shaping influences of prejudice, money, fame, and desire on what we see in one another. Emotionally intense, intellectually rigorous, ironic, and playful, this is a book you won’t be able to put down.
“The Blazing World offers a spirited romp…constructed as a Nabokovian cat’s cradle….Hustvedt’s portrait of the artist as a middle-aged widow is searingly fresh. It’s rare to encounter a female protagonist who throws her weight around quite so grandiloquently as Harriet Burden, a heroine who is–well, more like the hero of a Philip Roth or a Saul Bellow novel.”
—New York Times Book Review
“[A] playfully diabolic tour de force.”
—O: The Oprah Magazine
“The Blazing World is Siri Hustvedt’s best novel yet, an electrifying work with a titanic, poignantly flawed protagonist. . . [A] skillfully orchestrated chorus of voices both dark and brilliant. . . . The novel’s polyphonic structure delivers a wrenchingly sad story.”
“A glorious mashup of storytelling and scholarship. . . .[The Blazing World’s] touching conclusion ‘blazes hot and bright’ from the perspective of an aura reader, Harriet’s caretaker, whose vision of the artist’s work is at once spiritually charged and whimsical.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“As in her previous masterpiece, What I Loved (2003), Hustvedt paints a scathing portrait of the art world, obsessed with money and the latest trend, but superb descriptions of Harry’s work—installations expressing her turbulence and neediness—remind us that the beauty and power of art transcend such trivialities . . . Blazing indeed: not just with Harry’s fury, but with agonizing compassion for all of wounded humanity.” —Kirkus Reviews *starred review*
“Larger-than-life Harry reads vociferously, loves fervently, and overflows with intellectual and creative energy . . . . Hustvedt dissects the art world with ironic insight . . . . a funny, sad, thought-provoking, and touching portrait of a woman who is blazing with postfeminist fury and propelled by artistic audacity.” —Publishers Weekly
“Hustvedt subtly explores the intricate workings of the brain and the mysteries of the mind as she shrewdly investigates gender differences, parodies art criticism, and contrasts diabolical ambition and the soul-scouring inquiries of expressive art. A heady, suspenseful, funny, and wrenching novel of creativity, identity, and longing.” —Booklist *starred review*
“This is feminism in the tradition of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, or Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own: richly complex, densely psychological, dazzlingly nuanced. And at the same time, the book is a spectacularly good read. Its storytelling is magnificent, its characters vivid, its plot gripping; it’s rare that a novel of ideas can be so much fun.” —Slate.com
“The Blazing World is poundingly alive with ideas, personalities, conviction, fear, fakery, ambition, and sorrow. The reading mind is set on high, happy alert.” —New York Journal of Books
“Siri Hustvedt has written a superb, important, and wildly engrossing novel.” —BookBrowse.com
“Intelligent and . . . knowledgeable about the world of modern art, theory, and philosophy, Hustvedt describes in detail the insular world of the New York City art scene.” —Library Journal
“[A]n exuberantly clever piece of work. Fascinated by disguise, play-acting and ventriloquism, it lures its readers into a maze of characters, viewpoints and apparently persuasive arguments – then insists, refreshingly, that they think their way out. . . . Its real pleasures come from Hustvedt’s startling talent for voice and register. . . .[The Blazing World] is a novel that gloriously lives up to its title, one blazing with energy and thought.” —The Times (UK)
“Immediately engrossing. . . . None of the narrators, even Harriet, are precisely reliable, and this ingeniously supports Harriet’s own theory that we are all just monsters wearing masks.” —San Antonio Current
“[A] playfully diabolic tour de force.” —O Magazine
“The Blazing World is poundingly alive with ideas, personalities, conviction, fear, fakery, ambition, and sorrow. The reading mind is set on high, happy alert.” —New York Journal
“This novel is a puzzle, a mystery, a dance, filled with intrigue, a truly wonderful intellectual work that makes you think and laugh and tickles the brain.” —The Daily Mail (UK)
“Entertaining satirical fun.” —The Guardian (UK)
“A teeming intellectual maze with ominous undertones. . . . The rigorous and arresting Blazing World both demands and welcomes. . . . [Hustvedt] and this rich, necessary novel demand that we spend more time thinking deeply, making connections, seeing what is hidden in full view in a distracting, surface world.” —Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
“Every now and again I come across a book that makes me wish to do violence to my learning, to tear away words like tour de force and magnificent in order to excavate something more true, more raw, more appropriate to the experience of reading it. Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World is such a book. Like fire, it feeds as it consumes: It gives off the warmth and light by which to read, understand, marvel at it — but in order to do so it absorbs the reader’s gaze, knowledge and attention and combusts them, transforms them into the brightness by which it is read. . . . I was consistently amazed by the brilliance of the interplay between chapters, the cadence and variation of voices and the information they conveyed, and the book’s unnerving anticipation of my reactions to it.” —NPR.org
“Ingeniously and energetically put together. . . . The Blazing World never runs out of steam in dispensing ideas and peeling back layers of truth.” —Chicago Tribune
“Densely brilliant. . .terrifyingly clever. . . . Hustvedt’s text is carefully, impressively constructed.” —The Independent (UK)
“Siri Hustvedt has a rare gift for finding the human heart in what might be cerebral musings and rarefied settings.” —Columbus Dispatch
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Living, Thinking, Looking
The internationally acclaimed novelist Siri Hustvedt has also produced a growing body of nonfiction. She has published a book of essays on painting (Mysteries of the Rectangle) as well as an interdisciplinary investigation of a neurological disorder (The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves). She has given lectures on artists and theories of art at the Prado, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. In 2011, she delivered the thirty-ninth annual Freud Lecture in Vienna. Living, Thinking, Looking brings together thirty-two essays written between 2006 and 2011, in which the author culls insights from philosophy, neuroscience, psychology, psychoanalysis, and literature.
The book is divided into three sections: the essays in Living draw directly from Hustvedt’s life; those in Thinking explore memory, emotion, and the imagination; and the pieces in Looking are about visual art. And yet, the same questions recur throughout the collection. How do we see, remember, and feel? How do we interact with other people? What does it mean to sleep, dream, and speak? What is “the self”? Hustvedt’s unique synthesis of knowledge from many fields reinvigorates the much-needed dialogue between the humanities and the sciences as it deepens our understanding of an age-old riddle: What does it mean to be human?
“Another superb essay collection from novelist Hustvedt … the author trains a formidable intellect on difficult subjects (the structure of the brain, the nature of perception) with an engaging personal touch that invites a general readership … Hustvedt addresses a broad public without dumbing down her material. There are no weak essays here … At once stimulating and warm-hearted, with sentences of drop-dead beauty and acuity on nearly every page.” —Kirkus Reviews *starred review*
“Hustvedt’s essays are always perceptive, erudite, and also quite rarefied.” —Publishers Weekly
“An ardent reader, researcher, observer, and writer, Hustvedt presents an impressive group of involving inquiries spanning six years and a spectrum of intriguing subjects stemming from her main fascination, ‘what it means to be human.’ … Hustvedt is wholly present and compelling in her iridescent essays as she pinpoints such elusive phenomena as memory, perception, and feeling and traces the fine mesh that unites our minds to our bodies, our individual selves to the living world. Mystery, fact, intelligence, and enchantment flourish here.” —Booklist
“[Hustvedt uses] the self and ideas of self to launch brilliantly into recondite areas of cognition and psychiatric theory.” —Buffalo News
“For while there is nothing simple about Hustvedt’s subject matter – it ranges from migraine to Goya via existential philosophy and psychoanalysis – there is something refreshingly straightforward about her style. It has the confidence born of complex but well digested thoughts and thus lacks the tendency to obfuscate that is the hallmark of the inferior thinker’s style.” —The Guardian (UK)
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The Summer Without Men
An International Bestseller Read an Excerpt “And who among us would deny Jane Austen her happy endings or insist that Cary Grant and Irene Dunne should get back together at the end of The Awful Truth? There are tragedies and there are comedies, aren’t there? And they are often more the same than different, rather like men and women, if you ask me. A comedy depends on stopping the story at exactly the right moment.” Mia Fredrickson, the wry, vituperative, tragic comic, poet narrator of The Summer Without Men, has been forced to reexamine her own life. One day, out of the blue, after thirty years of marriage, Mia’s husband, a renowned neuroscientist, asks her for a “pause.” This abrupt request sends her reeling and lands her in a psychiatric ward. The June following Mia’s release from the hospital, she returns to the prairie town of her childhood, where her mother lives in an old people’s home. Alone in a rented house, she rages and fumes and bemoans her sorry fate. Slowly, however, she is drawn into the lives of those around her—her mother and her close friends,”the Five Swans,” and her young neighbor with two small children and a loud angry husband—and the adolescent girls in her poetry workshop whose scheming and petty cruelty carry a threat all their own. From the internationally bestselling author of What I Loved comes a provocative, witty, and revelatory novel about women and girls, love and marriage, and the age-old question of sameness and difference between the sexes.
“[A] rich and intelligent meditation on female identity, written in beguiling lyrical prose. While some may take issue with her claim in the novel that the contemporary literary imagination ‘emanates a distinctly feminine perfume’, this novel cannot be described otherwise. Its fragrance, however, is heady and intoxicating.” —Lucy Scholes, Sunday Times Review (UK)
“Siri Hustvedt is a novelist of great intelligence. She knows the ways of the world and of the heart. She also knows a great deal about literature, art, philosophy, psychoanalysis and the neurosciences. She has woven this knowledge into her fiction, particularly in the mesmerising What I Loved and The Sorrows of an American, to great dramatic effect. In her recent memoir, The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves, she took us on a dazzling journey through the mind-doctoring sciences as she sought an answer to the mystery of the wild shaking fits that took her over while speaking at her father’s memorial. The Summer Without Men is a new departure. Despite its painful subject matter – marital rupture, encroaching death, the tormenting antics of malice-ridden girls – the novel is a mordant comedy. And unlike Hustvedt’s earlier, carefully woven fictions, this one wears its seams on the outside. It plays with fictionality, invoking the ‘dear readers’ that we are, and making a mockery of sequential time on the page. It gives us shards of memory, poetry, the verse and stories that emerge from a writing class, philosophical text messages from a Mr Nobody, as well as a reading group’s response to Austen’s Persuasion, that template of delayed gratification.” —Lisa Appignanesi, The Observer
“What joy to see Hustvedt, the author, heretofore, of such elegantly dark, labyrinthine novels as The Sorrows of an American (2008), have such mordant fun in this saucy and scathing novel about men and women, selfishness and generosity. In Mia, Hustvedt has created a companionable and mischievous narrator to cherish, a healthy-minded woman of high intellect, blazing humor, and boundless compassion.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist
“Instead of being another novel of a woman on the brink, this becomes an adroit take on love, men and women, and girls and women.” —Publishers Weekly
“Lighthearted but not lightweight – a smart, sassy reflection on the varieties of female experience.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A chronological story builds through association, with scenes from that summer interspersed with digressions on a range of subjects, including ideological biology, and the devaluation of ‘women’s travail’ in literature written by women… These parenthetical excursions give the novel its complex texture. Events are coupled with commentary, commentary leads into event and temporal sequence is delightfully confused. Such digressive freedom is one of the pleasures of The Summer Without Men, in which fiction, fantasy, and historical fact are interweaved.” —The Times Literary Supplement (UK)
“Engaging… Hustvedt’s intensely visual writing spans the generations. She can conjure up a child’s realm of imaginary friends as evocatively as the brave face adopted by the elderly living in ‘a world of continual loss’. It’s by turns funny, moving and erudite, playfully reminding us of a contemporary Jane Austen.” —Daily Mail (UK)
“A wise book by one of America’s most skilful writers.” —Good Housekeeping
“An exquisite, though-provoking novel.” —Women & Home
“Mia is exceptional in almost every way…. Her voracious reading of literature, philosophy and science—and favorite excerpts are sprinkled throughout—has led her to a hard-won equanimity. She is also blessed with empathy, irony and a healthy dose of feminist outrage at the way women’s minds and bodies are routinely devalued. These qualities, combined with an almost surreal sensitivity to her environment, lead to an oddly satisfying conclusion in which love and sanity prevail…. Finely wrought descriptions of everything from maternal love to mean girls and marital sex make this slim volume well worth reading.” —Associated Press
“A mesmerizing and powerful meditation on marriage, the differences between the sexes, aging and what it means to be a woman…. Truly breathtaking… Borrowing from science, philosophy, poetry and literature, Hustvedt boldly burrows deep into the feminine psyche, exposing the dark doubts and insecurities we all keep locked deep inside. Mia’s candid musings on the cruelty of young girls alongside the harsh reality of growing old are unflinchingly honest, and Hustvedt’s bravery in presenting an unvarnished portrait of the “fairer sex” is exhilarating…. Rich with both the pleasures and sorrows that make life complete, this is a powerful and provocative novel that will have astute readers reconsidering where exactly the boundaries between truth and fiction lie.” —BookPage
“The Summer Without Men is sprightly and frisky, even as it contends with life-and-death subjects…. The intellectual menu includes not just Hustvedt’s usual forays into philosophy, literary theory, neurology and psychiatry, but also an investigation into romantic comedy, both the classic Hollywood version—‘love as verbal war’—and Jane Austen’s Persuasion… Among the novel’s pleasures are its analysis of gender…and the character of Mia herself, who comes across as honest, witty and empathetic (and is rendered charmingly in line drawings by the multitalented Hustvedt herself).” —The New York Times Book Review
“[An] elegant new novel, a smart and surprisingly amusing meditation on love, friendship and sexual politics… Author of four other novels, including What I Loved and The Sorrows of an American, Hustvedt clearly enjoys letting Mia vent her feminist screeds in hopes of transforming her broken heart into some blazing insight on the nature of men and women, yet she never allows Boris to completely turn into some terrible, disloyal, caddish creature despite his flaws. Hustvedt’s view roams wider than Mia’s wounds; she taps into poignant truths about women and life’s different stages.” —The Miami Herald
“This brisk, ebullient novel is a potpourri of poems, diary entries, emails and quicksilver self-analysis… The noisy chorus in Mia’s head has an appealing way of getting inside the reader’s too.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Composed in tight vivid prose, The Summer Without Men is energetic, and handles its subjects with depth and wit, painting its characters and their complex emotions in the kind of detail that rings true to life.” —Biblioklept.org
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The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves
In this unique neurological memoir Siri Hustvedt attempts to solve her own mysterious condition While speaking at a memorial event for her father in 2006, Siri Hustvedt suffered a violent seizure from the neck down. Despite her flapping arms and shaking legs, she continued to speak clearly and was able to finish her speech. It was as if she had suddenly become two people: a calm orator and a shuddering wreck. Then the seizures happened again and again. The Shaking Woman tracks Hustvedt’s search for a diagnosis, one that takes her inside the thought processes of several scientific disciplines, each one of which offers a distinct perspective on her paroxysms but no ready solution. In the process, she finds herself entangled in fundamental questions: What is the relationship between brain and mind? How do we remember? What is the self? During her investigations, Hustvedt joins a discussion group in which neurologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, and brain scientists trade ideas to develop a new field: neuropsychoanalysis. She volunteers as a writing teacher for psychiatric in-patients at the Payne Whitney clinic in New York City and unearths precedents in medical history that illuminate the origins of and shifts in our theories about the mind-body problem. In The Shaking Woman, Hustvedt synthesizes her experience and research into a compelling mystery: Who is the shaking woman? In the end, the story she tells becomes, in the words of George Makari, author of Revolution in Mind, “a brilliant illumination for us all.”
Reviews: Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall) reviews The Shaking Woman for The Guardian Lisa Appignanesi reviews The Shaking Woman for The Independent The Observer The Telegraph The Age, Australia The Glasgow Herald Irish Times Seed Magazine Library Journal Scientific American Financial Times Jewish Journal The Morning News Bookreporter.com San Francisco Gate Los Angeles Times Sign On San Diego
Interviews: Siri Hustvedt interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air: Siri interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio Read Siri’s interview with AOL Health Read Siri’s interview with The Guardian (Download as a PDF) Read Siri’s interview with NewScientist.com
“Siri Hustvedt, one of our finest novelists, has long been a brilliant explorer of brain and mind. But recently this investigation has taken a more personal turn: two years after her father’s death, while speaking about him in public, she suddenly found herself seized by convulsions. Was this ‘hysteria,’ a ‘conversion reaction,’ or a ‘coincidental’ attack of epilepsy? The Shaking Woman is the story—provocative but often funny, encyclopedic but down to earth—of her attempt to answer this question. It brings together an extraordinary double story: that of Hustvedt’s own odyssey of discovery, and of that point where brain and mind, neurology and psychiatry, come together in the realm of neuropsychoanalysis. The odyssey has not cured her, nor led to a conclusion—but Hustvedt’s erudite book deepens one’s wonder about the relation of body and mind.” —Oliver Sacks
“That Siri Hustvedt is a splendid writer is well known. The news is that life conspired to have her seek a working mastery of neuroscience. In her wonderful new book, part memoir, part mystery story, she explains this unexpected turn of events and offers the reader a wealth of valuable facts along with personal perspectives on the neuroscientific scene. Not surprisingly, the book is a pleasure to read.” —Antonio Damasio, University of Southern California
“Armed with her great gift for elucidation, the novelist and essayist Siri Hustvedt has omnivorously devoured and digested complex debates from neuroscience, psychiatry, philosophy and psychoanalysis and journeyed into the mind/body problem. In The Shaking Woman, her quest to understand her own mysterious troubles becomes a brilliant illumination for us all.” —George Makari, author of Revolution in Mind
“I was very struck by The Shaking Woman. Not only does it demonstrate nearly complete mastery (by a non-specialist) of the highly specialized field of neuropsychiatry, it also displays greater understanding of the underlying philosophical and historical issues that are at stake in this field than is displayed by most of my colleagues.” —Mark Solms, author of Brain and the Inner World
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What I Loved
What I Loved begins in New York in 1975, when art historian Leo Hertzberg discovers an extraordinary painting by an unknown artist in a SoHo gallery. He buys the work; tracks down the artist, Bill Wechsler; and the two men embark on a life-long friendship. Leo’s story, which spans twenty-five years, follows the growing involvement between his family and Bill’s–an intricate constellation of attachments that includes the two men, their wives, Erica and Violet, and their sons, Matthew and Mark.
The families live in the same New York apartment building, rent a house together in the summers and keep up a lively exchange of ideas about life and art, but the bonds between them are tested, first by sudden tragedy, and then by a monstrous duplicity that slowly comes to the surface. A beautifully written novel that combines the intimacy of a family saga with the suspense of a thriller, What I Loved is a deeply moving story about art, love, loss, and betrayal.
“Superb. . .What I Loved is a rare thing, a page turner written at full intellectual stretch, serious but witty, large-minded and morally engaged.”—The New York Times Book Review
“So richly imagined is the art in her book that it serves not just to illuminate hidden emotions but also as a subject in itself. . .A wrenching portrait of parental grief, then a psychological thriller, and finally a meditation on the perspective of memory.”—Vogue
“A great book. The twinning of narrative pleasure with intellectual rigor isn’t rare. In fact, it’s easy to find if you’re plowing through, say, the Modern Library, engaging with classics that come to you already canonized and annointed. But to stumble into such a relationship with a contemporary. . .writer is a heady feeling. Those of us who read new fiction dream of finding such a book.”—Newsday
“No image is wasted, no sentence superfluous in creating a novel that teems with ideas, emotions…. Hustvedt’s novel is a quietly astounding work of fiction that defies categorization.”—Los Angeles Times
“A remarkable achievement of Siri Hustvedt’s prose, with its attention to nuance and intricacy is its demonstration that friendship is a powerful form of intelligence. The book’s final pages acknowledge nearly overwhelming loss, but because the reader understands so much, their sadness feels almost like joy.”—The Washington Post
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A Plea For Eros
From the author of the international bestsellerWhat I Loved, a provocative collection of autobiographical and critical essays about writing and writers.
Whether her subject is growing up in Minnesota, cross-dressing, or the novel, Hustvedt’s nonfiction, like her fiction, defies easy categorization, elegantly combining intellect, emotion, wit, and passion. With a light touch and consummate clarity, she undresses the cultural prejudices that veil both literature and life and explores the multiple personalities that inevitably inhabit a writer’s mind. Is it possible for a woman in the twentieth century to endorse the corset, and at the same time approach with authority what it is like to be a man? Hustvedt does. Writing with rigorous honesty about her own divided self, and how this has shaped her as a writer, she also approaches the works of others–Fitzgerald, Dickens, and Henry James–with revelatory insight, and a practitioner’s understanding of their art.
The Enchantment Of Lily Dahl
The protagonist of Siri Hustvedt’s astonishing second novel is a heroine of the old style: tough, beautiful, and brave. Standing at the threshold of adulthood, she enters a new world of erotic adventure, profound but unexpected friendship, and inexplicable, frightening acts of madness. Lily’s story is also the story of a small town–Webster, Minnesota–where people are brought together by a powerful sense of place, both geographical and spiritual. Here gossip, secrets, and storytelling are as essential to the bond among its people as the borders that enclose the town.
The real secret at the heart of the book is the one that lies between reality and appearances, between waking life and dreams, at the place where imagination draws on its transforming powers in the face of death.
“Siri Hustvedt writes, literally, like a dream–a dream that’s at once intensely romantic and disturbingly eerie. This dark, sexy, spooky novel is an indelibly memorable fiction. Read it and it will haunt you.”—Salman Rushdie
“Highly original…a crystalline blend of innocence and sophistication, irony and candor.”—Newsday
“The Enchantment of Lily Dahl has the power to pull readers firmly into its orbit and to keep them there.”—The Village Voice
“She writes like a dream.”—GQ
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Mysteries of the Rectangle
Mysteries of the RectangleInternational Editions From Siri Hustvedt, author of the bestselling novel What I Loved, comes this inspired collection of essays on painting. Here, Hustvedt concentrates her narrative gifts on the works of such masters as Francisco de Goya, Jan Vermeer, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Gerhard Richter, and Joan Mitchell. Hustvedt is concerned with the very act of looking and the limitless rewards to be gleaned from sustained, careful attention. Unlike film and books, which progress over time, “Painting is there all at once,” she writes, it is only with patience and repeated viewings that elusive meanings present themselves. Through her own personal experiences, Hustvedt is able to reveal things until now hidden in plain sight: an egg like detail in Vermeer’s Woman with a Pearl Necklace and the many hidden self-portraits in Goya’s series of drawings, Los Caprichos, as well as in his infamous painting The Third of May. Most importantly, these essays exhibit the passion, thrill, and sheer pleasure of bewilderment a work of art can produce—if you simply take the time to look.