This book review should really be titled: When the world doesn’t know how to categorize something, they pull out the “meta” and the “feminist” and slide the remote into their back pockets to watch it all unfold.
This might be the weirdest book I’ve ever read. On reading reviews, it’s been toted as the newest in “feminist literature,” and has been compared to Woolf’s A Room Of One’s Own. On the other hand, it’s a philosophical diatribe on the underground philosophies of intellectuals hidden because of their own strokes of identity. That’s what I think this book is about at its core. Identity. How we use it to function in everyday society and how we remove it to function with ourselves. Many bloggers have claimed that this is a work of “meta-fiction” with the novel acting as a work of art that is spoken about within the text.
While I love deep thinking and all that bullshit, is this where fiction is going? I love a layered novel where it takes some critical analysis to really tap in, but I don’t want to dig to China to be able to read something that is supposed to be for pleasure. I think there is an elite class of fiction readers that will find this book utterly breath-taking. I was quite taken with it in the beginning, I read almost one-hundred pages in one sitting because I couldn’t sleep one night. I was fascinated by the cutoff meandering of the novel, there were connections between characters, but then each had their own brief story in Burden’s life. It sometimes made me wonder how those people on the public transport change your life in the blip of their turning conversation towards you and opening their jacket to pull out a harmonica. (Our free buses are a bit odd in Raleigh and my nephew likes to have deep bus conversation with the army fatigues to his right).
The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt is not a book that you can just read for pleasure. It’s a book that wants to constantly educate you as you read. Not only is it told from the perspective of too many voices including the journals of the main female character, Harriet Burden, but it’s almost a collection of the odd sorts in society thrown together to solve a mystery. Harriet Burden is a NY Artist who was married to an art collector (that had a gaggle of men and women on the side even though “it has nothing to do with his love for her) and she’s never really achieved any sort of recognition for her art. She decides to take in the fringe society to a studio hotel that she’s created and make certain men into little puppets in her game. There are three different men, with three different art shows that are supposedly Harry’s art, but their face. It’s this idea that women cannot get coverage in the sophisticated and prejudice art world of NYC, so Harry Burden must pull the wolves over the eyes of the high society and show her art under the veil of strange men.
The first man is Anton Tish. He’s a waif. Completely useless as a character other than being completely unknown to himself. Harry uses him like a dish rag to dust off the good china. Then, there’s my personal favorite, Phineus Q. Eldridge. She finds him in an obscure newspaper when his show is critiqued by the staff. He performs a one man autobiographical comedy act where he plays both the white man and the black man, one side of him is woman, one man, one side black, one white, and basically blurs the lines of any sort of boundary line that this American society has created. He’s got the most interesting voice, but unfortunately the reader doesn’t get to spend much time on his interview because we’re always being wisked away by other diaries, other questions, other answers that don’t truly need answering, when the most interesting story is a young boy who cowers under the thrown spiral of a football released from his father’s hands.
Sometimes, I just wish a book could be a book. We wouldn’t have to go through all this education mumbo jumbo, chutzpah, or shenanigans that make books “great works of literature.”
It’s clear through the many stories, and fictional (yet factual) footnotes, the author wanted to prove how educated she can be. With a PhD on Dickens (because how uncommon is that) she goes on to write a book that takes an FBI super agent filled to the brim with literary and humanity decor to uncover the true heart of it. I like to think I’m a pretty smart girl, but there were moments in this book when I just didn’t care enough to go on. There was no connection to these characters and everything is kept at a safe arm’s length. I’m sure this is going to be one of those books that is reviewed by the New York Times as avant-garde and brilliant, a sly form of new age literature for the literary feminists, but I just don’t get it.
Great literature causes great empathy. With this book, all I had was a great headache.
The other problem with this book is that the publishers didn’t care enough to fix their ebook formatting errors before releasing the book for advanced reader’s copies. There were numbers EVERYWHERE on the page. They would be placed in the middle of words, in the middle of important sentences, even occasionally where another number should be and the reader is thinking she meant at the age of six, but then the next word is nineteen and we suddenly realize that was a mistaken six. They always started over at forty and maintained pace throughout the entire novel. Do you know how hard it is to actively try to skip over numbers that aren’t meant to be there. I’m FUCKING disappointed in that. If your ebook isn’t legible, don’t put it on the market until it is because you have readers like me that actually want to invest some sort of body part into these novels in order to understand their value.
I would love to tout this book as something that inspired that fisted feminist that hangs out between my rib cage and just below my throat but other than the plot, nothing in this novel screamed feminist. The author was obviously well-read, she wears the signature black turtleneck of someone trying to look profound, but also look like they could step into a dark bar and crouch into the fetal position on stage only to bloom into some sort of slam poet. In these ways, this is feminist literature. In the way that Harry is shut down until the faces of her art are young men of strangeness. Also, in the way that the final man, Rune, finds ways to squash any chance that she created the art and he was only the basket in which it came in. He claims she has mental disturbances which we all know is the sure way to put your wife away so she can die in a mysterious fire. (Oops, too Fitzgerald for a second). This is the claim that men have been making for centuries though, seriously? Here we have Joan of Arc burned at the stake, the Salem Witch Trials – that amusement park of hangings, Sylvia Plath sticking her head in the oven, and women who have served their lives in “rest homes” because their husbands were overburdened with the idea that women can do more than vacuum with heels on. I understand all of this and where Hustvedt is going with her novel. I’m just not sure the hyper intellect she put into it really works.
Other Reviews (because I’m always one of the few haterzzzz):
This book is getting a lot of hype. Have you heard anything? Are you planning on reading it? Read any good feminist literature lately – I want your recommendations so bad, I’m willing to walk into the ocean with my pockets full of rocks. (Too early, still)?
I am a writer, educator and genuine creative living on the coast of NC. Our house is built on sunshine with my husband BJ, dog named Tucker, and our two very sassy cats: Fromage and Jasper.