Monday, July 07, 2014


The Blazing World, Siri Hustvedt, Simon & Schuster, 2014, 376 pp

For quite some years I have had a short list of favorite authors comprised of only three: Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, and Barbara Kingsolver. Yes, they are all female and I love each one for different reasons that are hard to articulate. I have read every single novel written by my top three so one of these days I am going to make a sub list of the rest of the female authors I love. Siri Hustvedt will be on it.

She has published six novels, of which I have read three: What I Loved, The Summer Without Men, and now The Blazing World. In my estimation she creates something quite different each time and the only reason I haven't read the other three novels is that reading her is a large investment of mental and emotional energy. For a good time call another writer but if you want to be seduced into exploring your own psyche, if you want to ponder life's mysteries, if you enjoy considering how life and art converge, read Siri Hustvedt.

The Blazing World was her most challenging novel yet for me. Harriet Burden, artist, wife, mother, widow, possesses the talent, intellect, and drive that often lead to wild success. Her husband had all the success however, as an art dealer. He was able to give Harriet wealth but not artistic representation, so she languished as mother of their children and hostess to his social life.

OK, so this is an oft told tale, but once the man dies she comes blazing forth, energized by all her anger, knowledge, and freedom, and creates a dastardly experiment: she has a man pose as the artist for her creations. Suddenly the critical acclaim of the art world is hers, the popularity, positive reviews, all that an artist can hope for. Except no one knows she is the artist.

She repeats her feat twice more but the third time she meets her match and is betrayed on several levels. The challenge for the reader lies partly in the construction of the novel: a male scholar poses as the editor of a collection made up of excerpts from Burden's journals, interviews with her two adult children and friends and cohorts, reviews of her work, etc.

Once you get going it works like a novel should, revealing story and characters and you get a psychological study of the artist herself as well as several others. You must however also wrap your wits around numerous philosophers including Soren Kierkegaard, the psychology of creativity, and the language of art criticism not to mention Harriet's musings on the literature she devours.

BUT...if you are a woman with a talent or skill and have experienced what happens when you take that talent or skill into the world of commerce, then you know deep in your soul that it is still a man's world and the subtle devices by which you can be passed over, invalidated, mocked, in other words suppressed, are myriad. The Blazing World then becomes satisfying, liberating, therapeutic, and a whole lot of a rare type of fun.

Check out this interview with Siri Hustvedt for more insight into the novel.

(The Blazing World is available in hardcover and eBook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. The paperback edition will be released in October.)

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