Recommended Reading: Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World

© Marion Ettlinger

Close your eyes. Open your eyes. Take a closer look at the work of art in front of you. Do you like it? And if so, why? How much is it worth? What relevance does it have? The answers to these questions don’t just lie in the facts but the sum of associations, which the brain has put together after years of painstaking attention to detail? “There is no perception without memory,” author Siri Hustvedt explains during her talk “My Louise Bourgeois” at Haus der Kunst in Munich. The title is all the more fitting since it’s about her personal relationship with the artist and, of all the events supporting her new novel, The Blazing World, this one was the best. Before this there had been a reading in Berlin’s hopelessly overcrowded Babylon and the next evening saw a roundtable discussion with artist Katharina Grosse and documentary filmmaker Nicola Graef

The novel’s plot revolves around the main character Harriet Burden, who, after the death of her gallerist husband, decides to hold up a mirror to the male-dominated art world. She places three of her own pieces with fellow artists, who pass them off as their own work, and watches as the ensuing success takes a catapult-like turn. It’s all narrated by an always-wise Siri Hustvedt, who had “great fun” writing the book—also something you wouldn’t necessarily expect considering the 496 pages demand every millimeter of the reader’s concentration in order to stay on top of several narrative layers and pick up on all the subtly constructed allusions. Still, it remains recommended reading, even if her previous novel, What I Loved, and the collection of essays, Living, Thinking, Looking, fared perfectly well without exploiting gender debates—the latter in particular showcasing her amazing ability to observe the world.

Listen to the reading in Munich here:

Siri Hustvedt was born in 1955 in Northfield, Minnesota and has lived in New York since 1978. There, she has written six books, engages with neuroscience, and teaches writing classes at psychiatric clinics.