Thursday, October 3, 2013

Review: "What I Loved" by Siri Hustvedt

After a streak of sub-par titles, it was nice to read a home run of a novel like Siri Hustvedt’s What I loved, a thrilling piece of modern noir where the mystery at the heart of the story is one of the human mind and it’s emotional machinery. It might sound cheap for me to say this, because Husvedt is married to him in real life, but this does seem like the Paul Auster novel that Auster never wrote himself, which is refreshing now since he has not published in a few years. That may sound like I am underselling the value of Hustvedt’s novel, but I am not, because it in no way hinders the enjoyment and suspense this novel got out of me. It had been awhile since a book swept me up completely in its narrative, making each character real to me, and each of their actions making me cheer or cry as if they were people I knew in real life. It took me back to the first time I read any Paul Auster book, where that sense of intrigue melded so well with volatile states of mind like grief, loss and betrayal. And betrayal and lies play a big role in what makes this novel so good and so memorable. It has many twists and turns in it that do keep you guessing not just because the story is exciting and enthralling, which it very much is, but because you have so much invested in the outcome of these people. The plot centers around the relationship that develops between Leo, an art history professor and Bill, an aspiring artist, as well as their respective wives, Erica and Lucille. They develop a strong bond that is very familial, even as their children, Matthew and Mark are born. That relationship is tested very rigorously as time goes on, by sudden tragedies, and the intimate betrayals by those that are close to them. The real heart of this novel is in the actions of Bill’s son Mark, who grows from a seemingly loving boy, into an amoral monster who tells lies just to tell them, even when he has nothing to gain from lying. He falls into a disturbing group of artists, whose work is shocking and violent for violence’s sake, which is led by Teddy Giles, a performer whose lack of talent is hidden by a mysterious and extroverted presence that seems to fool everyone who admires him. I don’t want to spoil anything, but this story thread leads to an intense 100 pages at the end, which will scare you, as well as break your heart. Like her great husband, Hustvedt’s novel is a solid, heartfelt meditation not just on the surface value of art and artistic expression, but of the ways it can permeate other areas of our life, and create things that aren’t always good and drive us away from our humane instincts. It was quite the pleasure to exist within this book for a short while, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Rating: 5/5  

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