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The Blazing World: A Novel Hardcover – March 11, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Limited edition (March 11, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1476747237
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476747231
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #27,397 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Hustvedt’s (Living, Thinking, Looking, 2012) fascination with art and artists, a prime subject in her fiction and essays, propels her sixth novel through a labyrinth of masquerade and betrayal to profoundly unsettling truths. I. V. Hess is the editor of this purported collection of writings by and about an enigmatic artist, Harriet Burden, the tall, strong, erudite widow of a famous and secretive art dealer. Long enraged over the dismissive response to her work, Harriet launches a high-stakes gambit to expose the art world’s persistent sexism. She convinces three male artists to pose as the creators of a sequence of her elaborate, allusive, and wildly provocative installations. We observe Harriet, her intellectually astute and psychologically daring art, and her risky quest for validation and justice from multiple, often contradictory perspectives through entries from Harriet’s journals, art reviews, and interviews with and written statements by various experts, including, oddly enough, a woman who reads auras, as well as Harriet’s daughter and son, lifelong friend, lover, and artist-accomplices, trustworthy and vile. Hustvedt subtly explores the intricate workings of the brain and the mysteries of the mind as she shrewdly investigates gender differences, parodies art criticism, and contrasts diabolical ambition and the soul-scouring inquiries of expressive art. A heady, suspenseful, funny, and wrenching novel of creativity, identity, and longing. --Donna Seaman

Review

LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE

"The Blazing World offers a spirited romp...constructed as a Nabokovian cat's cradle....Hustvedt's portrait of the artist as a middle-aged widow is searingly fresh. It's rare to encounter a female protagonist who throws her weight around quite so grandiloquently as Harriet Burden, a heroine who is—well, more like the hero of a Philip Roth or a Saul Bellow novel." (New York Times Book Review)

“Ingeniously and energetically put together. . . . The Blazing World never runs out of steam in dispensing ideas and peeling back layers of truth.” (Chicago Tribune)

“Incandescent. . . . Hustvedt’s greatest triumph here is not the feminist argument she makes. It’s that we ache for her characters. This is a muscular book, and just enough of that muscle is heart.” (The Boston Globe)

“A glorious mashup of storytelling and scholarship. . . .[The Blazing World’s] touching conclusion ‘blazes hot and bright’ from the perspective of an aura reader, Harriet's caretaker, whose vision of the artist's work is at once spiritually charged and whimsical.” (The San Francisco Chronicle)

The Blazing World is unique and recognizably so, a bracing examination of the act of creation, of fame and identity, gender bias and feminism, love and desire, psychology and philosophy. . . . Full of life and ideas and intellectual prowess, it’s also a compelling story with richly drawn characters. . . .[An] extraordinary puzzle.” (The Miami Herald)

The Blazing World is Siri Hustvedt’s best novel yet, an electrifying work with a titanic, poignantly flawed protagonist. Harriet Burden’s rage, turbulence and neediness leap off these pages in a skillfully orchestrated chorus of voices both dark and brilliant.” (The Washington Post)

"In certain respects, The Blazing World is a didactic novel, presenting arguments about the place of gender in American cultural life, yet it avoids preaching or settled judgments by putting at its center a figure whose strongly held beliefs are undermined by the hazards of real life. The effect is more fluid and nuanced than any scholarly study or political diatribe could be." (The Wall Street Journal)

“This is feminism in the tradition of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, or Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own: richly complex, densely psychological, dazzlingly nuanced. And at the same time, the book is a spectacularly good read. Its storytelling is magnificent, its characters vivid, its plot gripping; it’s rare that a novel of ideas can be so much fun.” (Slate)

"[C]omplex, astonishing, harrowing, and utterly, completely engrossing." (NPR)

"Siri Hustvedt has earned her reputation as a brilliant thinker and articulate writer. This is not her first work of fiction, and The Blazing World is strong proof that her talents are unmatched in the genre. . . a delightful, quirky story that shares many truths about women in the arts, and the struggles they encounter in rising to fame." (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

“Dazzling. . . ingeniously constructed. . . . The Blazing World is a serious, sometimes profound book, tackling head-on the knotty issues of identity and sense of self, and our unconscious ideas about gender and celebrity. It offers an exhilarating reading experience for anyone willing to meet its challenge.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

“Siri Hustvedt has a rare gift for finding the human heart in what might be cerebral musings and rarefied settings.” (Columbus Dispatch)

“Immediately engrossing. . . . None of the narrators, even Harriet, are precisely reliable, and this ingeniously supports Harriet’s own theory that we are all just monsters wearing masks.” (San Antonio Current)

The Blazing World is poundingly alive with ideas, personalities, conviction, fear, fakery, ambition, and sorrow. The reading mind is set on high, happy alert.” (The New York Journal of Books)

"The absence of women artists in the history of painting is an old feminist topic, but it is one The Blazing World approaches head-on." (The Guardian)

"Hustvedt’s novels – What I Loved, The Enchantment of Lily Dahl, The Summer Without Men, among others – have always been smart, accomplished, critically acclaimed but this one feels like a departure. There is more heat in it, more wildness; it seems to burst on to a whole other level of achievement and grace." (Financial Times)

"Densely brilliant, but terrifyingly clever too... you don’t need a PhD in Kierkegaard to enjoy Hustvedt’s writing, and it’s a pleasure to feel your brain whirring as it forges links and finds the cracks across differing accounts. Even if The Blazing World is about ambiguity and mutability in everything from authorship to gender to memory, Hustvedt’s text is carefully, impressively constructed: she’s as convincing in each fictional voice as Harriet is in her masks." (The Independent)

[A]n exuberantly clever piece of work.... [A] novel that gloriously lives up to its title, one blazing with energy and thought. (The Times)

“Siri Hustvedt’s dizzying, deeply felt The Blazing World—political, philosophical, transcendent in the way of true art—will stay alive in readers’ minds for years to come.” (The Rumpus)

"Both intellectually and emotionally gripping… the generosity of the storytelling leads to full and often affecting backstories for all the main characters… [it] feels like one of those novels in which a well-established author triumphantly sums up, and possibly even surpasses, everything they’ve done before." (The Spectator)

“Masterful. . . .[Hustvedt’s] long-running explorations have rarely been merged together as fluidly as they are here, an achievement that has everything to do with rendering the novel’s abundant intellect in a deeply felt and accessible manner. Six novels and more than two decades into her career, it is altogether fair to argue that Siri Hustvedt is quietly becoming one of North America’s most subversive and fearlessly intelligent writers.” (Toronto Star)

"A heady, suspenseful, funny, and wrenching novel of creativity, identity, and longing." (Booklist (Starred Review))

“Larger-than-life Harry reads vociferously, loves fervently, and overflows with intellectual and creative energy….Hustvedt dissects the art world with ironic insight….This is a funny, sad, thought-provoking, and touching portrait of a woman who is blazing with postfeminist fury and propelled by artistic audacity." (Publishers Weekly)

“Readers of Hustvedt’s essay collections (Living, Thinking, Looking, 2012, etc.) will recognize the writer’s long-standing interest in questions of perception, and her searching intellect is also evident here. But as the story of Harry’s life coheres . . . it’s the emotional content that seizes the reader . . . As in her previous masterpiece, What I Loved (2003), Hustvedt paints a scathing portrait of the art world, obsessed with money and the latest trend, but superb descriptions of Harry’s work—installations expressing her turbulence and neediness—remind us that the beauty and power of art transcend such trivialities . . . Blazing indeed: not just with Harry’s fury, but with agonizing compassion for all of wounded humanity.” (Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review))

“Intelligent and . . . knowledgeable about the world of modern art, theory, and philosophy, Hustvedt describes in detail the insular world of the New York City art scene.” (Library Review)

Praise for The Summer Without Men

“Exhuberant…Hustvedt is a fearless writer…She’s managed not to shrink the truth of women’s lives, without relinquishing love for men.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“Engaging…a fragmented meditation on identity, abandonment, and loss….Hustvedt manages to move seamlessly between Blake and Rilke to Kirekegaard and Hegel while maintaining a forward motion to this fluid narrative…Satisfying.” (Boston Globe)

“Elegant… a smart and surprisingly amusing meditation on love, friendship and sexual politics.” (The Miami Herald)

An investigation into romantic comedy, both the classic Hollywood version—‘love as verbal war’—and Jane Austen’s Persuasion… Among the novel’s pleasures are its analysis of gender…and the character of Mia herself, who comes across as honest, witty and empathetic.” (New York Times Book Review)

“This brisk, ebullient novel is a potpourri of poems, diary entries, emails and quicksilver self-analysis... The noisy chorus in Mia’s head has an appealing way of getting inside the reader’s too.” (Wall Street Journal)

“Breathtaking… hilarious… What a joy it is to see Hustvedt have such mordant fun in this saucy and scathing novel about men and women, selfishness and generosity…. Hustvedt has created a companionable and mischievous narrator to cherish, a healthy-minded woman of high intellect, blazing humor, and boundless compassion.” (Booklist (Starred Review))

“Intellectually spry… An adroit take on love, men and women, and girls and women.”  (Publishers Weekly)

“[A] 21st century riff on the 19th-century Reader-I-married-him school of quiet insurgent women’s fiction… Tart comments on male vs. female styles of writing-and reading-novels are a delight… A smart, sassy reflection on the varieties of female experience.” (Kirkus Reviews)

Praise for What I Loved

“Superb. . .What I Loved is a rare thing, a page turner written at full intellectual stretch, serious but witty, large-minded and morally engaged.” (New York Times Book Review)

“So richly imagined is the art in her book that it serves not just to illuminate hidden emotions but also as a subject in itself. . .A wrenching portrait of parental grief, then a psychological thriller, and finally a meditation on the perspective of memory.” (Vogue)

“A great book. The twinning of narrative pleasure with intellectual rigor isn’t rare. In fact, it’s easy to find if you’re plowing through, say, the Modern Library, engaging with classics that come to you already canonized and annointed. But to stumble into such a relationship with a contemporary. . .writer is a heady feeling. Those of us who read new fiction dream of finding such a book.” (Newsday)

“No image is wasted, no sentence superfluous in creating a novel that teems with ideas, emotions…. Hustvedt’s novel is a quietly astounding work of fiction that defies categorization.” (Los Angeles Times)

“A remarkable achievement of Siri Hustvedt’s prose, with its attention to nuance and intricacy is its demonstration that friendship is a powerful form of intelligence. The book’s final pages acknowledge nearly overwhelming loss, but because the reader understands so much, their sadness feels almost like joy.” (The Washington Post)

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More About the Author

Siri Hustvedt is the author five novels, The Blindfold, The Enchantment of Lily Dahl, What I Loved,and The Summer Without Men, as well as three collections of essays, A Plea for Eros, Mysteries of the Rectangle: Essays on Painting, and Living, Thinking, Looking, as well as the nonfiction work: The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves. What I Loved and The Summer Without Men were international bestsellers. Her work has been shortlisted for numerous awards, including the Femina Etranger in France, and she is the recipient of the 2012 International Gabarron Prize for Thought and Humanities.

Customer Reviews

My guess is because there is too much academic discussion and not enough story and character.
Writergirl
Hustvedt's "Blazing World" was of great interest to me because of my involvement in art and it was engrossing as it was unique.
Addison Dewitt
She makes no apology for running parallel tracks of aesthetics and philosophy alongside the fictional world of the characters.
LA

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 24, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Just before I was ready to write this review, I happened across an interesting statistic: at this year's Whitney biennial, only 32 percent of the represented artists were women (down from four years ago when for the first time ever, over half of featured artists were women.)

Siri Hustvedt's latest book, The Blazing World, is spot-on when its main character, Harriet Burden, muses, "I suspected that if I had come in another place, my work might have been embraced or, at least approached with greater seriousness."

The concept - an outstanding female artist concealing her gender behind three successive male beards--is solid and Ms. Hustvedt is certainly a very masterful writer. So what went wrong for me?

Just this: my personal bias is that I should not be steeped in knowledge of western philosophy and sometimes obscure contemporary art to be able to immerse myself in a book. When one character says that Harriet has "taken the Kierkegaardian position", I shouldn't need to scratch my head. When philosopher Arthur Danno, Vasari, Diderot, and others are mentioned in one paragraph, I should have at least a simple roadmap about what it all means. And when fictional footnotes are added, I shouldn't believe that it is the author displaying her eruditeness.

I am not unintelligent; I hold a Master's degree from an excellent university. Yet I felt adrift. My belief is that in the very best books, words are precisely used to clarify the human condition and create a connection with the reader rather than distance that reader. From time to time, there was an intellectual connection to this novel, but not a visceral one. Certainly there was little warmth.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 11, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Harriet Burden, the protagonist of this novel, frustrated by the inability of a female artist to gain the exposure or respect accorded to men, collaborates in turn with three male artists willing to exhibit her work as theirs. Although there are common themes in all three exhibits, their styles are radically different, changing with each mask that Burden puts on. I found this interesting, since the three books by Siri Hustvedt that I have read (WHAT I LOVED, THE SUMMER WITHOUT MEN, and this), while also sharing similar themes, are so different in texture and approach as to present quite different facets of their author. WHAT I LOVED inhabits the art world as brilliantly as this new book does, but it is full of characters that you care about as human beings, and is built around a linear story that keeps you reading. THE SUMMER WITHOUT MEN, the weakest of these three books, is basically a justified feminist lament centered around a character who is difficult to like, and told more or less in scrapbook form, though with flashes of real brilliance.

And this one? First of all, it is as tightly engineered intellectually as a BMW. Although it continues some of the scrapbook approach of SUMMER, being a collection of statements, cuttings, and journal entries illuminating the last decade of Burden's career, it has none of the random feel of its predecessor. The "Editor's Introduction" immediately introduces an atmosphere of scholarly rigor, footnoted with references to writers, artists, and thinkers who, whether famous or obscure, all seem to be real.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful By K. Sullivan VINE VOICE on March 22, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
“The Blazing World” is presented as a scholarly study of the artist, Harriet “Harry” Burden. It’s a compilation of interviews, articles, and journals from various sources (the artist herself, her friends and family, art critics, etc.). Burden was an artist who experienced minor success in the 70’s and 80’s before a quiet period following her marriage to renowned and wealthy art dealer Felix Lord. During this period, Burden felt disrespected and belittled by many who were wittingly or unwittingly dismissive of her vast intellect and encyclopedic knowledge of art, philosophy and psychology. She attributed this denigration to ingrained perceptions about women. After her husband’s death, she concocted a plan to prove her theory. She would produce an art installation and find a young male willing to stand in as its artist. When the exhibit achieved success, she would reveal herself as the true artist thus confirming bias against females exists. Burden claimed to have created three such exhibits. Only one of the artists, however, acknowledged Burden’s claims to be true. The first artist disappeared from the public eye and the final artist publicly rejected Burden’s claims. Adding to the intrigue, the final artist later died under mysterious circumstances. Thus cheated of her vindication, she was gripped by bitterness despite the new acclaim she ultimately achieved.

I quickly became very excited by and developed high expectations for this novel. The storytelling is creative and the writing brims with confidence. The ideas underlying the novel are varied and poignant. Multiple times I made notations about ideas presented in the novel (e.g.
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