My friend M has been at me to read Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World for a few months. She even texted me at 8 am on a Sunday morning, “You really need to read this book. The fact that I am texting you this early is a sign.” I had read The Summer without Men two years ago and loved it, so I was willing to be indulgent. Boy, I am so glad I finally cracked it open. I devoured it in less than three days.
The novel is dense, rich, and complex, twisting with multiple narratives and genres and testimonies. The story itself goes like this: Harriet Burden is an artist in New York but tired and resentful of the slights to her craft because of her gender. Therefore, she devises a plan: she creates a show and then has a male artist pose as the artist in order to gain the recognition. She does this three times with three men and three separate results. After her death, fictional academic I.V. Hess tries to sort through her papers and notebooks, written statements by friends, family, and the artists, in order to find out what “really” happened. The whodunit and “truth” aspect is irrelevant–it’s all about how this life and artist were perceived, and that’s where the beauty of the story emerges.
I’ll be honest: this novel is probably not for everyone. Unless you’re an academic and read Margaret Cavendish for a Renaissance English seminar, you’re probably not going to appreciate the comparisons drawn to Cavendish (I ate them up *because* I read The Blazing World of Margaret Cavendish for my English Renaissance lit seminar). The tone itself is academic, and interested in art and feminism, particularly when addressing institutional and social sexism. But I thought it was beautifully written and rendered, and very imaginatively drawn. So that’s why I give it five stars. But if you’re not sure this book is for you, then definitely check out The Summer without Men. It’s more approachable and a delightful read.