I cried a couple of weeks ago, reading a book. I rarely cry and I didn’t cry reading Siri Hustvedt’s novel though it’s undeniably tragic and a profoundly sad story. I was riveted by What I Loved, intrigued by its ideas and mysteries but I was not moved. Who knows why this happens? Why our hearts break for some stories and not for others, no matter how harrowing or how well they’re written.
What I Loved is a beautifully written book. Perhaps too beautiful, too perfect. It’s very intelligent. The characters are cerebral, fond of analysis and interpretation – though sometimes they lack insight and awareness, for all their talk. I loved listening in on their conversations about Art and hysteria and pathology, relationships, people. This is a thought-provoking novel but the intellect consumes the heart of it somehow. I just didn’t connect. I watched from far away and thought how fascinating you all are. And then I walked away and thought little of them ’til I sat down to write this review.
That said, What I Loved is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Or, should I say, one of the most worthwhile. The characters and their tragic, complicated lives may not have stayed with me but the novel’s Ideas have lingered somewhat. Questions of Time and Memory and Perception. Perhaps you saw this book differently than I did, perhaps you’ll cry. Not that crying is a requisite for a brilliant novel but, ooooh, when you do, when a novel does that to you. That lingers. That feels amazing. Some novels are earth shattering and some novels are Seismology, the fastidious study of how and why the ground opened up. What I Loved was the latter to me: a cerebral examination of what happens when hearts and lives are shaken to their core and brought to their foundations.
Hustvedt’s latest novel is The Summer Without Men, published in April ’11. I’ll probably wait a while before reading it but, in the meantime, her Author Site is a wonderful source of essays and the kind of intellectual, stimulating writing that makes her one of my favourite writers. Have you read either one or both? How do they compare? What did you love – or not – about What I Loved?