Thursday, March 08, 2007

I Loved What I Loved

I recently finished re-reading (for the second time) 'What I Loved' by Siri Hustvedt. This book was a charity shop buy that I think I chose because I knew that Hustvedt was married to Paul Auster, and given that I like Auster, and presumably she does too, I thought this might be an interesting read. I don't know why I think that just because somebody is married to someone whose writing I like would be worth reading, but that is what I thought. And I stand by my random decision. This book is astonishing.

I started reading it with my 'light reading' head on - I think the cover & quotes signal that this book is a less intellectual read than it is. The book itself is also deceptive - this is not a linear narrative in a traditional sense. While time moves linearly, the focus of the novel does not. Characters remain present, even in death, but what is important changes. This novel feels real - it feels like a real life. When people die, it is not at a convenient time. When they love, it is not always at a convenient time. Children are not perfect. Friends are not always there. Happy endings are for other books.

The novel tackles some extraordinary creative issues, to do with art, poetry, writing, and creativity. Hustvedt's descriptions of the visual art are particularly evocative - I feel that I would like to seek out the main character's exhibitions. But I think the most interesting part of this novel is one of the most extraordinary, accurate and heart-wrending descriptions of a personality disorder. Hustvedt cleverly, without appearing to be 'terribly clever' allows one of her characters to discuss and dissect the role of personality and disorders of personality throughout recent psychopathological history. The associations are not always intuitive, and I would disagree with some, but they are definatley interesting and provide a fantastic counterpoint to the general pathologising of the normal spectrum of personality that is currently in vogue in the United States. The character of Mark is one of the best examples of personality disorder that I know in fictionalised literature; without exaggeration, without fantasising, without sensationalising the disorder, Hustvedt allows us to experience the pain, frustration and hopelessness of working or living with people with severe personality disorders.

This book is a fantastic read for many reasons - if you like subtly intellectual books, if you are interested in art, if you are interested in psychopathology and culture, if you enjoy beautifully written contemporary fiction, if you are sick of reading about lives that are too neat and work out too easily. This is one of the best books about love that I have ever read. Basically, I would recommend it to almost anyone. Just make sure you have your tissues with you at all times.

For more reviews, try The Observer, the New York Times, or the Guardian. Or this one, which is less glowing.


Anonymous said...

Wow, I think i might have to choose the right frame of my mind to read it but read it i must.


Anonymous said...

This books is now, after reading your review,in my "must read" list! I will order it tonight! It seems that there's just about everything I look for in a book. Btw, I'm your secret pal ;) and I'm looking forward to spoil you :D and to get to know you better!

And I will be writing to you soon!
Yours faithfully-knitfully-friendfully,
Secret Pal