The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

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The Blazing World

Five words from the blurb: female, artist, experiment, conceals, identity

The Blazing World investigates society’s attitude to women; showing how preconceptions affect our opinion of work produced by the different sexes. The book centres on Harriet Burden, an artist who decides to conceal her identity and pretend that her works of art have been created by men. Through a series of texts, compiled after her death, the reader discovers her motivations and how the secret changed the way her art was received.

The writing in this book was fantastic! The book raised important questions about society’s treatment of women and I found myself highlighting many different passages:

It is easy to claim that those who are swept up in these beliefs are ignorant, but belief is a complex mixture of suggestion, mimicry, desire and projection. We all like to believe we are resistant to the words and actions of others. We believe that their imaginings do not become ours, but we are wrong.

Every page was brimming with new ideas and I was interested in events throughout. The fragmented approach meant I wasn’t emotionally invested in the characters, but this didn’t seem to matter. The intelligence of the writing shone through and I enjoyed reading a book that treated the reader with respect; introducing complex thoughts without pausing to explain them. It was more like a collection of essays than a novel, but the concept was so strong that I found myself thinking about certain aspects long after finishing it. This is very unusual for me as I often struggle with books that don’t have a strong narrative thread. It is a testament to the quality of the writing that I remained engaged throughout.

Another thing I loved about the book was the way the Hustvedt referenced herself in it. Authors often come across badly when they try to include themselves in their work, so I was charmed when she described herself as “an obscure novelist and essayist”.  I really hope this book provides her with the publicity she needs to gain the wider audience she deserves.

I have no interest in art and I normally dislike books with a fragmented structure, but the quality of the writing overcame these issues. That is a rare occurrence and the reason why I highly recommend this book.


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  1. Annabel says:

    Because I love her hubby Paul Auster’s books so, I want to love hers too – but have felt slightly intimidated to start reading Siri Hustvedt for some reason. I bet you do stay up tonight!… :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, For some reason I’ve always felt intimidated by her writing too. Luckily these thoughts were unjustified as I found her work accessible. I hope you decide to try her sometime soon.

  2. Marie says:

    I’ve heard such great things about Hustvedt’s writing but for some reason have read nothing by her yet. But I, too, thought this would be a surefire candidate for the Bailey’s prize! I think Siri Hustvedt and Naomi Wood are the two omissions I’m most surprised about.

    1. Jackie says:

      Marie, Yes, I was surprised those two books didn’t make the longlist too. I hope you decide to give Hustvedt a try soon as she is such a great author – enjoy!

  3. I love her writing and don’t find her particularly intimidating, though I do confess that I may be biased by not having read any of her non-fiction. Anyway, I’m so excited her new book is out.

    1. Jackie says:

      Vicki, I haven’t tried any of her non-fiction yet either – I think I need to experience it soon :-)

  4. I included this title in my March releases to look out for – glad that instinct was correct. Now I just have to find time to enjoy that writing myself!


  1. The 2014 Booker Longlist – Farm Lane Books Blog

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