The Blazing Worldby Siri Hustvedt
In a new novel called “searingly fresh... A Nabokovian cat’s crade/i>/i>
Hailed by The Washington Post as “Siri Hustvedt’s best novel yet, an electrifying work,” The Blazing World is one of the best-reviewed books of the season: a masterful novel about perception, prejudice, desire, and one woman’s struggle to be seen.
In a new novel called “searingly fresh... A Nabokovian cat’s crade” on the cover of The New York Times Book Review, the internationally bestselling author tells the provocative story of artist Harriet Burden, who, after years of having her work ignored, ignites an explosive scandal in New York’s art world when she recruits three young men to present her creations as their own. Yet when the shows succeed and Burden steps forward for her triumphant reveal, she is betrayed by the third man, Rune. Many critics side with him, and Burden and Rune find themselves in a charged and dangerous game, one that ends in his bizarre death.
An intricately conceived, diabolical puzzle presented as a collection of texts, including Harriet’s journals, assembled after her death, this “glorious mashup of storytelling and scholarship” (San Fransisco Chronicle) unfolds from multiple perspectives as Harriet’s critics, fans, family, and others offer their own conflicting opinions of where the truth lies. Writing in Slate, Katie Roiphe declared it “a spectacularly good read...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.”
“Astonishing, harrowing, and utterly, completely engrossing” (NPR), Hustvedt’s new novel is “Blazing indeed:...with agonizing compassion for all of wounded humanity”(Kirkus Reviews, starred review). It is a masterpiece that will be remembered for years to come.
Art isn’t easy, and according to Hustvedt (What I Loved), the art market can be especially rough on women who are over 40, overweight, and overtly intellectual, which is why the novel’s protagonist, Harriet “Harry” Burden, a frustrated artist and art dealer’s widow, exhibits her artwork using male stand-ins in a performance art experiment that goes terribly awry. Suffering from deep depression after her husband’s death, followed by extreme elation, Harry relocates to Brooklyn, where she produces modern masterpieces dotted with clues to her identity, then shows them under a male collaborator’s name. Her first mask, a minor artist, chafes at the role, but the second, biracial gay Phineas Q. Eldridge, proves more amenable, while the third—the meanest and most dangerous—enjoys the limelight so much he denies Harry’s claims to authorship. Larger-than-life Harry reads vociferously, loves fervently, and overflows with intellectual and creative energy. Structurally, her Pygmalion-turned-Frankenstein tale is recounted through a variety of narrators, including an art critic; a New Age art groupie; Harry’s children, friends, and detractors; and Harry herself. Hustvedt dissects the art world with ironic insight. Footnotes and academic references, a large cast of characters, a wide range of narrative voices, intellectual digressions, and occasional one-liners enrich this novel of the New York art scene. This is a funny, sad, thought-provoking, and touching portrait of a woman who is blazing with postfeminist fury and propelled by artistic audacity. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Mar.)
“Exhuberant…Hustvedt is a fearless writer…She’s managed not to shrink the truth of women’s lives, without relinquishing love for men.”
Always incisive and interesting, Hustvedt here tells the challenging story of artist Harriet Burden, who's tired of her low profile in the art world. So she presents her work under the guise of three different male artists, each with a blockbuster solo show. Once she reveals the subterfuge, she is challenged about the final show, presumably mounted by an artist named Rune with whom Harriet had a tense and combative relationship. And now Rune is dead.
An embittered female artist plays a trick on critics that goes badly awry in Hustvedt's latest (The Summer Without Men, 2011, etc.). An "Editor's Introduction" sets up the premise: After the 1995 death of her husband, art dealer Felix Adler, Harriet Burden embarked on a project she called Maskings, in which she engaged three male artists to exhibit her work as their own, to expose the art world's sexism and to reveal "how unconscious ideas about gender, race, and celebrity influence a viewer's understanding of a given work of art." Readers of Hustvedt's essay collections (Living, Thinking, Looking, 2012, etc.) will recognize the writer's long-standing interest in questions of perception, and her searching intellect is also evident here. But as the story of Harry's life coheres--assembled from her notebooks, various pieces of journalism, and interviews with her children, the three male artists and other art-world denizens--it's the emotional content that seizes the reader. After a lifetime of being silenced by the powerful presences of her father and her husband, Harry seethes with rage, made no less consuming by the fact that she genuinely loved Felix; the nuanced depiction of their flawed marriage is one of the novel's triumphs, fair to both parties and tremendously sad. As in her previous masterpiece, What I Loved (2003), Hustvedt paints a scathing portrait of the art world, obsessed with money and the latest trend, but superb descriptions of Harry's work--installations expressing her turbulence and neediness--remind us that the beauty and power of art transcend such trivialities. If only art could heal Harry, who learns the risks of entrusting others with your own unfinished business when the third of her male "masks" refuses to play her endgame. She dies less than a year later (no spoiler; we learn this from the opening pages), and the book closes with a moving final vision of her art: "every one of those wild, nutty, sad things…alive with the spirit." Blazing indeed: not just with Harry's fury, but with agonizing compassion for all of wounded humanity.
- Simon & Schuster
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)
Meet the Author
Siri Hustvedt has a PhD in English literature from Columbia University and is the internationally acclaimed author of five novels, and a growing body of nonfiction. In 2012 she was the recipient of the Gabarron International Award for Thought and Humanities. She lives in Brooklyn.
- New York, New York
- Date of Birth:
- February 19, 1955
- Place of Birth:
- Northfield, Minnesota
- B.A. in history, St. Olaf College; Ph.D. in English, Columbia University
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
For quite some years I have had a short list of favorite authors comprised of only three: Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, and Barbara Kingsolver. Yes, they are all female and I love each one for different reasons that are hard to articulate. I have read every single novel written by my top three so one of these days I am going to make a sub list of the rest of the female authors I love. Siri Hustvedt will be on it. She has published six novels, of which I have read three: What I Loved, The Summer Without Men, and now The Blazing World. In my estimation she creates something quite different each time and the only reason I haven't read the other three novels is that reading her is a large investment of mental and emotional energy. For a good time call another writer but if you want to be seduced into exploring your own psyche, if you want to ponder life's mysteries, if you enjoy considering how life and art converge, read Siri Hustvedt. The Blazing World was her most challenging novel yet for me. Harriet Burden, artist, wife, mother, widow, possesses the talent, intellect, and drive that often lead to wild success. Her husband had all the success however, as an art dealer. He was able to give Harriet wealth but not artistic representation, so she languished as mother of their children and hostess to his social life. OK, so this is an oft told tale, but once the man dies she comes blazing forth, energized by all her anger, knowledge, and freedom, and creates a dastardly experiment: she has a man pose as the artist for her creations. Suddenly the critical acclaim of the art world is hers, the popularity, positive reviews, all that an artist can hope for. Except no one knows she is the artist. She repeats her feat twice more but the third time she meets her match and is betrayed on several levels. The challenge for the reader lies partly in the construction of the novel: a male scholar poses as the editor of a collection made up of excerpts from Burden's journals, interviews with her two adult children and friends and cohorts, reviews of her work, etc. Once you get going it works like a novel should, revealing story and characters and you get a psychological study of the artist herself as well as several others. You must however also wrap your wits around numerous philosophers including Soren Kierkegaard, the psychology of creativity, and the language of art criticism not to mention Harriet's musings on the literature she devours. BUT...if you are a woman with a talent or skill and have experienced what happens when you take that talent or skill into the world of commerce, then you know deep in your soul that it is still a man's world and the subtle devices by which you can be passed over, invalidated, mocked, in other words suppressed, are myriad. The Blazing World then becomes satisfying, liberating, therapeutic, and a whole lot of a rare type of fun.
Nevermind, I'm not going to kill her off, just make everyone think she is dead for a bit. Except you, of course and Randi knows. Then I shall return some time in April or May, if the clan is any better.