Friday, February 26, 2010

What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

I mentioned that I was reading "What I Loved" by Siri Hustvedt. I finished it last night in a final sprint, after a week or two of picking it up in odd moments and not getting anywhere fast.

The novel is in three parts and each is very different. Part One immerses the reader in works of art and the intellectual processes behind them. It is very cerebral, if you like. Part Two exposes the reader to raw emotion, humanity, vulnerability, and introduces doubt. Who can be trusted? Can you even trust yourself? Is there any such thing as innocence? Truth?
Part Three... wow, Part Three grabs you by the collar and shakes you hard! It is plot-driven: fast, furious, full of fear and threat. Life and death and blood and guts and horror. The questions multiply and become overwhelming. You have no choice but to read this section quickly to find out what happened, with a growing sense of dread. And yet the final tying-off of ends seems almost superfluous. I was left with the feeling that the plot was not the point, even though it was what accelerated my pace of reading.

I won't spoil the book for you by revealing too many secrets, because I think you should read it yourself. But don't blame me if you are left feeling unsettled and anxious. There is a strong theme running through the book concerning extremes of human behaviour- personality disorders, hysteria, schizophrenia - all these and more! And while the extremes may inspire or provoke art, they are just part of a continuum running through every life, touching everyone to a greater or lesser extent.

Maybe it is a question of sensitivity. Don't forget the origin of the word: a "sensitive" person was originally someone with occult / supernatural powers! Are we desensitised by modern life / computer games / films? Do people lie more easily nowadays, acting out a role instead of being "themselves"?

There's a lot in here about parenting teenagers. That's probably what disturbed me most. At some point they stop being your children and become themselves - and what can you do if you don't like those people? Is it your fault? Can you tell when they are lying to you?

I'm off to Amazon to buy her other novels. I'm hooked now.

1 comment:

Sally said...

Thank you for introducing me to this book, Ruth. I'm about 100 pages in now, just past the hysteria and Hansel and Gretel boxes, which I am finding quite disturbing. I think I'm what you'd call sensitive in the modern sense of the word!

I too am hooked. Thanks for the recommendation!