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.