My enchantment with Siri Hustvedt

What follows is my history with Siri Hustvedt’s fiction: I chanced upon her first novel, The Blindfold, a few days after discussing with a friend her and her marriage with Paul Auster. The Blindfold was a terrific read, about a young heroine named Iris Vegan, traversing life and all its accompanying hauntings and disconcertions. A few months later, I read what is widely deemed as her masterpiece — What I Loved. It’s beyond words have delicious that book is, how exhilarating and inebriating the experience was for me.

Looking back, I realize that novel might have spoiled me for the rest of her fiction. When I read The Sorrows of an American, the novel she released following What I Loved, I loathed it. I loathed it so much I couldn’t talk about it then. There were virtually no characters. Instead, stand-ins and mouthpieces for psychological and philosophical ideas. The cerebral-ness went too far. It was, frankly, too Auster for me.

Here, The Enchantment of Lily Dahl, her second novel — sandwiched between The Blindfold and What I Loved. It was clear to me, the transitional feel of this novel. It had the young heroine in a scary small town — involving herself with the shadiest characters — murders and suicides, stalkers and doppelgangers. Although not quite whole, for some reason. Not as vibrant as I’ve come to expect from Hustvedt.

And yet, here were the beginnings of the dark sensuality of Hustvedt’s more powerful fiction. In one scene, the beautiful Lily Dahl puts on a dead woman’s pair of high heels, goes to her window, and strips for the man in the building across the street, the man she’s been watching for a long time.

Here, too, were the wisps of the central themes of What I Loved: beauty, obsession, art. The man across the street is Edward Shapiro, a painter, and Hustvedt’s descriptions of his art is as faultless as ever. Lily Dahl is hounded — by wordplay [as odd as that may seem], by the infatuation of the men around her, by the death of people she never knew.

These are the foundations of Siri Hustvedt. And, though a part of me feels bad about saying this: these are the foundations of What I Loved. These are the foundations of what I have come to love about Hustvedt’s writing — and I’m always waiting for lightning to strike as potently for the second time.

This March, she’s coming out with a new novel: The Summer Without Men. Ye Book Gods, grant me this book in the form of a parcel around that time, please?

4 thoughts on “My enchantment with Siri Hustvedt

  1. I read Blindfold some years back and I really enjoyed The Sorrows of an American. Perhaps because I did not have What I Loved to compare it to? I have it on my tbr soon list. I certainly look forward to more of her writing. Nice to find someone else who likes her work. I’ll be interested in what you think of her new book.

  2. I have The Sorrows of an American on my bookshelf (I believe it was $2, so not exactly a huge investment) however this makes me glad that if I enjoy it I will saved What I Loved for later.

  3. Sasha – I picked up Siri’s “What I Loved” at our local library last summer just because I liked how exotic her name sounded and I started making a mental list of my own when I read the title. It went to Bali with me and I’m reading it by the pool of our rented house, all happy and feeling entitled, and yes, enchanted by her words, when the story took a turn and I found myself not wanting to believe what I was reading and crying and sobbing for the people in the book. That library book has my tears on its pages and I returned it in awe of the woman who wrote it. All these to say, I share your love for Siri.


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