- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (November 4, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781476747248
- ISBN-13: 978-1476747248
- ASIN: 1476747245
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 145 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #192,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Blazing World: A Novel Paperback – November 4, 2014
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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)
“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)
“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)
"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)
“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)
"Complex, astonishing, harrowing, and utterly, completely engrossing." (NPR)
“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)
"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)
About the Author
Siri Hustvedt is the internationally acclaimed author of a book of poems, six novels, four collections of essays, and a work of nonfiction. In 2012 she was awarded the International Gabarron Prize for Thought and Humanities. Her novel The Blazing World was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Lost Angeles Book Prize for Fiction. She has also published numerous papers in scholarly and scientific journals. She has a PhD in English literature from Columbia University and is a Lecturer in Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. Her work has been translated into over thirty languages. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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Harriet Burden, also known as Harry, by old friends and a select new friends, is 62 years old.
Her husband Felix has been dead for about a year. Felix was a giant dealer to the stars in the art world.... Harriet, had been an artist wife.
When they married - she was twenty-six. Felix was forty-eight.
"It was love"
"And orgasms, many of them, and soft damp sheets"
"It was a haircut, very short"
"It was marriage. My first. His second".
"It was talk --paintings, sculptures, photographs, and installations. And colors, a lot about colors. They stained us both, filled our insides. It was reading books aloud to each other and talking about them".
"It was babies I loved looking at, the little lords, sensuous delights of pudgy flesh and fluids. For at least three years I was awash in milk and poop and piss and spit-up and sweat and tears. It was paradise. It was exhausting. It was boring. It was sweet, exciting, and sometimes, curiously, very lonely".
Maisie and Ethan were her children.
Nannies were hired so Harriet could work. She built tiny crooked houses with lots of writing on the walls.
Both her parents died. She missed all three: Felix, and her parents. She was an only child - a WASP and Jew.
Her old friend - Rachel.... Dr. Rachel Briefman, pschoanalysis, referred Harriet to a psychiatrist – psychoanalysis after Felix died as she went into depression. She wept and talked and wept some more".
In time, her therapist said:
"There's still time to change things, Harriet. Don't let anyone say there aren't magic words"
And the story takes off.......AND ITS SOOOOOO GOOD!!!
The parts I LOVED were intimate and personal! There are challenges - but it's soooo worth it. I LOVED THIS BOOK!!! I LIKED HARRIET!!!
I wasn't familiar with the name of many artists mentioned - but there were footnotes. Having the physical book was much more helpful to me than the kindle. ( I could take my time- look up information I wanted- go back and re-read sections easier). Some 'names' -- I just let go-- as it wasn't a drive- for me- in the context of the larger story - I wasn't interested 'enough' to study each artist....( it would have taken too much time). It's the OVERALL STORY I LOVED!!!!
Harriet, ( I don't know if I could call her Harry... if she'd consider me a privileged friend... but I hope so...I love this woman). 'Harry' is not 'harsh' at all....yet she is a feminist. She is also sensitive - she really misses her husband. She knew he had affairs. It hurt her, but she never felt she would lose him and in their later years - he fully came back to her--there was nobody else. She misses her mother ( from before she was sick). I didn't get the feeling that she minded "being-in-the-shadow" of her husband when he was alive....or that she hated domestic life. I don't think she thought that way of herself ever. She was happy - in love with her family: always in love with life - even when sad. Harriet was versed in history, philosophy, science, art, and literature - she was an educated bright talented woman!! She was eccentric... and kinda one of those bigger-than-life-fabulous females whom I would have loved to have enjoyed being friends with. If I were in 'her' shadows it would be alright with me.
She even reminds me - a little - of a great female I know ....( which added to my personal reading pleasure).
After Felix died...she couldn't live her life through her adult children- and she was 'aware' of the reality of the times -'not' having a penis as an artist was at a dis-advantage. I, myself have read enough novels about artists in just the last few years... and have learned ..."FEMALE ARTISTS ALL OVER THE WORLD WERE NEVER AS RESPECTED AS MEN". So, of course, why 'would' Harriet have felt any different- that she would have been 'so special' to ease into the art world as a female.
At the same time---with the grief ( loss), of her husband and parents....she also felt as if her life was collapsing on her. Dead and imaginary people played a bigger role in her life then the living did. In 'that' space, of loss, I think it's extraordinary that Harriet did what she did towards the end I'd her life. Harry kept climbing mountains. It wasn't perfect- but inspiring. Her creative juices kicked in her later years. She did it the way she did it- period!
Harry's daughter Maisie ( married a therapist who worked with foster kids and they had children of their own), worried about her mother. Maisie was a wonderful daughter - wife and mother herself.
Harriet's son, Ethan felt a little angry watching his mother change...taking on a new life. He felt it she was vaguely indecent and was a betrayal to his father's memory.
Her friend Rachel Briefman shared what Harriet was like as a child towards the start of the book - ( always always drawing ). Rachel land Harry were best friends growing up-- both had dreams. Rachael wanted to wear a white coat with a stethoscope around her neck, and Harriet saw herself as a great artist or poet, or intellectual-- or all three. "
They were intimates as girls can be, unhampered by masculine posing that plagues boys. They were a team of two girls against a hostile world of adolescent hierarchies".
We know early into this book, that Harriet has died. Volumes of notebooks written by Harriet are compiled into a book called "The Blazing World"...edited by a professor named Hess. There are interviews with various people about her projects. Through these notebooks - truths get revealed....most of her work was exhibited around New York City. Excerpts of Harriet's journals, reprints of magazine articles, and best of all were statements ( feelings really) from the the people who 'knew' what Harriet was doing all along.
Harriet's project as a whole was "Maskings". It was meant not only to expose the anti-female biased at the art world, but to uncover the complex workings of human perception and how unconscious ideas about gender, race, and celebrity influence a viewers understanding of given work of art.
The question which could be asked....did, by Harriet using a pseudonym - -change the character of the art she made?
Three projects: three different men...each completely different...The men agreed to show the work as if it were there's. The idea in itself fascinated me-I mean, I wondered what good did it do to give credit to somebody who doesn't deserve it... and why? Harry seemed to think there 'was' a reason. Harry actually saw it as a fable -- and magic needed to unfold slowly and eventually be turned into a fable that could be retold in the name of a higher purpose.
It was at this point in the book when 'I' shifted ... I looked deeper to see this project from Harriet's point of view. She was into enlightenment before 'it was cool'. [ full moon, new moon, psychic, Tantric sexual practices, fasting, chakras, candle lighting, healing, wholeness and unity].
I laughed a little to myself -- on one end, Harriet was into discovering 'the truth'...
( zen Buddhism?) ... And on the other hand her project was a disguise. So, for me... that's where the 'fable' comes in to play.
I suppose there are MANY WAYS to read this book - each reader brings their own experience, and their own educational background, or lack there of in my case.
Like the book "The Martian", by Any Weir... which this book has nothing in common....there were parts ( science and math details) , that some readers glossed over and 'still' thoroughly enjoyed the book.
There ARE challenges in "The Blazing World", but WONDERFUL intimate storytelling also. Did I comprehend every detail? Of course not....but I feel I got to know the characters -and the story as a whole.
I was crying at the end - real tears....I didn't want to let Harriet go. I wanted her to see all that she was and 'had' accomplished.
I started thinking of other artists in my lifetime, who died before their work became famous. One of the first names that comes to mind is Jonathan Larson, Composer and playwright -- famous for the Broadway play, "RENT".
Even Steig Larsson, the Swedish author who died young before he saw the huge hit his books "The Dragon Girl" series became around the world. There are so many more.
Good men die young! This was one of the most absorbing books I've read!!!
5 strong stars from me! I don't think I'll stop thinking about several characters for a long time....and Harriet pulled my heartstrings!!