I’ve been interested in Siri Hustvedt for a while now, but it wasn’t until a few days ago that I finally picked up my first book by this lady – What I loved. It’s a story that takes its focus in the art world of New York, from the 1970s and onwards to the year 2000. The story is hard to summarize – anymore than that, because it’s a very progressive sort of story. It stretches over a long time period, and the world that the story takes place in changes with it – from the 70s to the 80s to the 90s. The characters are what carries the story though, the characters and the writing.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever read a book with so many interesting, full-fletched characters – not just the main characters but really the whole cast gets their time to shine, they grow over the course of time and they become real – as real as people I’ve met. They have their different world views, quirks, flaws, their pasts and their presents – all of which shape them. The two main leads are probably Leo and Bill, two men who are both involved in the art world – Leo as an art historian, Bill as an artist. As we follow the relationship that develops between them we also meet Lucille – Bill’s wife, Erica – Leo’s girlfriend, Violet – mystery lady, Matthew – son of Leo & Erica, Mark – son of Lucille & Bill. Even further down the road there are interesting minor characters like Dan – Bill’s brother, and Lazlo. It doesn’t help anyone thinking of reading this to list all of the characters of course, but my point still stands. Every single character in this book lives, even the minor ones. Even the ones who only make a brief appearance, they feel like actual human beings. Siri Hustvedt does the character building superbly!
When it comes to the writing, I think some people will love it and some people might find it a bit long-winded. Actually in moments I did too, but for the most part I really liked her writing style. It’s very rich and detailed, in every part of the story. And although the characters are a huge part of the book, so is art and so is .. philosophy? I think that’s the best word to put it. Because it’s a big part of the book, there are many sections that are entirely dedicated to describing art pieces, or the art world, and many sections with philosophical pondering and reflection. Now – if that’s your sort of thing, it’s going to be the book for you. But I feel like this is the part of the book that can really make it or break it for some people.
Although I did find some of the art descriptions and philosophical reflections slightly long-winded (more so towards the end), I liked a great deal of them and her writing style in general really made me interested in her work. I’m quite sure I’ll be reading more of her books, starting from the beginning.
To sum it up, it’s rather a slow book – I’d almost like to say it’s a book that demands to be read slowly, or at the very least very attentively (there’s no room to lose concentration, it’s so rich and detailed). It’s a very realistic depiction of characters and people, and overall an interesting book.