Monday, January 23, 2012

The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt

Siri Hustvedt's novel The Summer Without Men is lingering with me this morning. I finished it last night. Although a short novel, with a scant 200 short pages, it is rich with several themes skilfully woven together. It begins with the words: 'Sometime after he said the word pause, I went mad and landed in hospital.' The 'Pause' is the mistress of the narrator's husband; it devastates her because the marriage is a long and, until then, a happy one.

By the start of the novel, Mia has recovered enough to leave hospital and goes to live in a rented cottage in rural Minneapolis close to her elderly mother's retirement home. Her mother is a widow, and her friends are known as the Swans - all women - the pupils that turn up to Mia's poetry class are all pubescent girls, and her next door neighbour is a woman with a four year old girl and baby (and largely absent husband) the summer of Mia's recovery is an all feminine one.

The book chronicles Mia's return to strength, with a variety of intelligent and astute observations about the mind, consciousness ('the hard problem'), mental illness, male and female relationships, marriage, sexuality and ageing. In fact, the whole of female life is here: the effect of motherhood (there is a particularly touching scene when she helps with the baby next door) - in both the young and the old; childhood and the painfulness of finding a place to fit; middle-age and the acceptance of aging and death.

An unusual and attractive feature of the book is the way Mia addresses the reader. She observes that most readers of novels written by women tend to be women, and by the end of the book she addresses that reader directly, 'You, friend out there...' she says, and by that time I felt I certainly was. I shall certainly be reading more of Siri Hustvedt. I have a feeling she could become another favourite author.

Thanks to Sceptre for sending me a copy of this book.


Blogger Sue Guiney said...

Ok. You convinced me. I'm off to buy it.

Tue Jan 24, 05:37:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Great! I think you're going to love this, Sue!

Tue Jan 24, 05:48:00 pm  
Blogger jem said...

Good to read about how you found Siri. I've got one of hers waiting on my shelf, I think I'll bump it up the list. I've been interested in her since I learned she's married to Paul Auster - I'm interested to see if there are any similarities between their writings after noticing such when reading Nicole Krauss and JS Foer (also married).

Wed Jan 25, 10:59:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Which one do you have, Jem? I'm definitely going to read some more of hers. She does refer to a something a famous novelist said, and it did make me wonder if it was something her husband had written. I've not read any Auster, I have to admit. Another great author I haven't read, no doubt...

Wed Jan 25, 11:05:00 am  
Anonymous marly youmans said...

An interesting recommendation, Clare... You are good at being clear and enticing on other people's books.

Sat Feb 11, 12:39:00 pm  
Anonymous marly youmans said...

And on your own, of course! Though you are too modest to do so often... (I like modesty, though I suppose it's the horn blasters that are noticed.)

Sat Feb 11, 12:41:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thanks, Marly :-)

Sat Feb 11, 03:49:00 pm  
Blogger jem said...

Took me a while to come back - but I have (and have now read) What I Loved. I found it quite unusual - well written and engaging throughout, but strangely cold in places - I was almost say that she writes in an almost manly way. One of those books where I reached the end and was glad I read it but feel a bit unsettled by it's effect. If you fancied trying an Auster I would recommend The Book of Illusions - by far my favourite and all about silent film (topical and all that!).

Fri Feb 17, 12:10:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

You're very perceptive, Jem. I hadn't thought of her writing being manly, but yes, that is certainly my impression too, thinking about it. Maybe this is because she is unafraid to consider the 'hard' topics like psychiatry - and it is this which makes her work intelligent and interesting.

Thanks very much for the advice about Auster. I have got 'The New York Trilogy' waiting on the TBR pile, but shall order 'The Book of Illusions' and 'What I Loved' too.

Fri Feb 17, 12:19:00 pm  

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