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What I loved by Siri Hustvedt
Published by Sceptre
This is another of my Bookcrossing finds and once again it was a combination of the picture on the front cover but combined this time with the author's name which I rather naively thought sounded a bit Indian but I have since discovered she isn't. A quick look at the blurb on the back and all the quotes from critics seemed really positive and full of praise so I picked it up. If I had had to pay for it I may not have done but it seemed to promise an interesting read.
The author lives in Brooklyn ,New York and has written only three novels, a collection of essays and a book of poetry. Her first novel "The Blindfold" was published in 1992 and was a huge success being further translated into sixteen other languages. Part three of the novel (obviously a long one) was made into a film called "Of Women and Magic. I have to say both the novel and the film passed by me unnoticed. Her second novel published in 1996 was titled The Enchantment of Lily Dahl" was also very successful but until I picked this book up I had not heard of her I'm afraid.
Basically this is a novel about human relationships and how they change over the years. Interestingly the main character is male and convincingly so as I had to check whether the author was in fact female. He is an art critic and early in the novel befriends a struggling artist and his wife. The critic gets married and the four become quite close. The artist's wife is very highly strung and after the birth of their child she leaves and the artist gets together with one of the most famous models from his paintings. They become very close and the art critic and wife also have a son. The four adults and two boys holiday together and the artist's son moves between his mother and father's houses. So you have a pretty normal sort of family situation and friendships. That is part one of the novel and it is told by the art critic as he looks back through the artists possessions.
At the start of part two a really shocking thing happens to the family of the art critic which has major repercussions. Relationships change and things are never the same again. I certainly didn't see it comig so I won't give anything away.
Part three becomes much more of a mystery as the son of the artist becomes a rally challenging teenager and this continues into his young adult life. His behaviour deeply affects the artist and his work and in turn this affects the rest of the lives in the story.
I found all the characters were real. They were portrayed as intelligent artistic people with normal everyday problems and emotions. Their reactions to events were truly believable and I found myself empathising with them as events rollercoastered their way through their lives. Life is like that, everything floats along easily for some time then a big event, sad or happy can completely change what happens. In life you have accidents, death, marriage, huge successes, times of poverty and times of being better off and this all makes up people's lives. What happens to one person in a close knit group can have big repercussions for the others. This is how this novel progresses just like life with ups and downs. The characters reacted in very realistic ways and behaved towards each other in perfectly understandable ways and as a reader I felt pulled into their little circle too.
The author writes in a very poetic style. This doesn't mean it was hard to read but she does capture feelings and describes things in a very emotive and often beautiful style. Her writing is full of rich imagery, the details of some of the artwork are so thorough that I could almost see the finished result. This is definitely a novel that would appeal to someone with an interest in art as her eye for detail is second to none.
BEYOND THE BASIC STORY:
The story starts quite simple and builds up the relationship between the characters so that the reader truly feels that he/she is part of the group and knows them all intimately. The novel suddenly changes direction in a quite shocking way.Finally we move onto a sort of mystery so there are many changes in pace and direction which take you by surprise.
Throughout the novel really deep and complex issues are discussed from mental illness, eating disorders, erotica, drugs, murder and modern art. It is quite an amazing feat to combine all these issues as well as how people feel about love, betrayal, grief, loss struggling with obsessive personalities, lying, problems with emotional fragility, drug dependency and so one. Despite all these complex and highly emotive issues there is still a really good story coming through.
I was not convinced initially and at times found the novel quite dark and depressing. However as I made my way through I became more and more drawn in to the lives of these people. The themes and discussions on the mental illness I did find quite disturbing and interestingly while the artist's wife was writing about these themes his paintings became increasing dark and disturbing too so what one person is drawn into also pulls others along too.
I really loved the descriptions of the works of art they were so detailed that you could almost believe that she was describing a real piece of art. I began to almost think that the artist was actually a real artist. The descriptions of the seedy underworld and drug taking were also pretty detailed and authentic.
I began to really care about the characters and became involved in their everyday lives and worries. I think that is a sign of good character portrayal if you actually almost feel you know them personally It doesn't matter if you like or hate them as long as they seem plausible and these certainly felt like real people with the sort of problems and issues that you might well come across in life.
It wasn't a happy book and at times I felt quite pulled down when things were going bad but I had to know what was going to happen and so could not actually put it down.
I haven't read any of her other books but if I saw another I would certainly give it a try. Ms Hustvedt writes in a very easy to read manner while at the same time describes things in almost Dickensian detail. Her descriptions are almost poetic in style. The story is there but the characterisation and the art work as well as the other themes discussed are sewn threw and fit beautifully within the story. This starts as a simple relationship between two families and becomes gradually darker and deeper as the story progresses.
I would certainly recommend giving this a read if you like something with a bit more substance than a summer chicklit read. Don't get me wrong I do quite enjoy those sorts of books but tend to read them on planes or travelling when I have less concentration. I am not saying this is a deep, intellectual read but it certainly makes you think as it tackles some fairly deep issues.
I have recently bookcrossed this in a cafe in Derby so it is back in circulation.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.