The Blazing World

First of all, let me point you to a review I wrote for Necessary Fiction of Tiphanie Yanique’s new novel Land of Love and Drowning. Take a look over there to see what I thought!

I recently finished Siri Hustvedt’s new novel The Blazing World and found it to be thought-provoking. I’m guessing this is the kind of thing that wouldn’t get published if Hustvedt hadn’t had a long track record of novel publications already (although maybe this is unfair….), since it is unabashedly academic and intellectual, a complicated, philosophical story about misogyny in the art world. The main character, Harriet, known as Harry, is an artist who found herself frustrated at the lack of enthusiasm with which her work was greeted. After much time passed, she decided to try an experiment, to launch a project that would test the extent to which her work was ignored because of her gender. Over a series of years she works with three different men, creating art and then having them present it as their own. It probably won’t surprise you to learn how the work was received. She runs into trouble with the third man, though, who claims that the art was really his.

This story is interesting in and of itself, and Harry is a great character, brilliant, determined, and angry at the world. Additionally, though, the structure of the novel is intriguing. We learn that Harry has died, and the novel itself is framed as a collection of various materials — journals, interviews, statements by the characters — meant to explore Harry’s art, her life, and her relationship with the men who pretended her art was theirs. The compiler of all this material is I.V. Hess, a professor who stumbles upon the story and can’t let it go. He interviews various friends and family from Harry’s life, as well as people from the art world, and gets many perspectives on who Harry was, what kind of art she produced, and whether she really created all the work she claimed she did.

I loved the different voices in the novel, which led to a lot of tonal variety. Oddly, Harry’s own journals were sometimes the least compelling sections, perhaps because of her occasionally elusive, mysterious thought process. But this is only sometimes the case, and as a character, she is wonderful. I felt like I learned a lot about the art world and what it was like — and perhaps still is — for a woman trying to make her way in it.


Filed under Books

11 responses to “The Blazing World

  1. I didn’t even know Hustvedt had a new novel! I love her work and will definitely seek it out when I’m ready for slower novels, because I know hers are usually pretty slow to start. Is that the case here?


    • It’s not a fast-moving book in any part, I’d say, although I did like it and didn’t feel that it dragged. But it was the voice and the structure I was enjoying, not the plot. I’d say it’s a good one to save for when you are ready for slower novels!


  2. I was sent an e-copy of this as an advanced reader’s copy but it was so badly formatted that it was impossible to read. I meant to get hold of it in paper form but then forgot all about it. I may pick it up later in the year but ‘What I Loved’ is coming up in one of my book groups in October so that is going to have to be my dose of Hustvedt for the moment.


    • Oh, that’s too bad about the ebook! Frustrating. I’ve had experiences with ebooks in PDF format that I couldn’t read, and I was disappointed. I hope you enjoy What I Loved. I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts.


  3. Oh, this sounds good! Will definite give it a read sometime.


  4. Thanks for intro. me to this book by Siri Hustvedt. I like that it’s the kind of books that are “unabashedly academic and intellectual.” I admit I haven’t heard of Hustvedt until reading your review. A little digging brought me the info that she’s the wife of Paul Auster. Now that one I know, have read a couple of his novels, and seen the adaptation of The Music of Chance, one of my all time favourite films.


    • I’ve read a couple Auster novels, and I have to say that I prefer Hustvedt. Somehow, Auster just never quite appealed to me. A movie adaptation might be different, though. I’ll have to check out The Music of Chance sometime!


  5. I’ve picked up The Blazing World and put it down again in Waterstones more than once. Your review is tempting me to pick it up again!


  6. A great review, thank you! I’m in the middle of reading “The Blazing World”, and just like you, I really like the tonal variation. I do actually believe the novel’s picture of the art-world is sadly true.


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