Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt


The Summer Without Men 
by Siri Hustvedt
Picador, 2011
225 pages
source: purchased ebook

Summary (from Publishers Weekly):
A theatrically manic poet turns heartbreak into an intellectual endeavor in Hustvedt's intellectually spry latest (after The Sorrows of an American). Fresh out of the hospital at age 55 following a breakdown brought on by her husband's departure for a young colleague referred to as "The Pause," award-winning poet and Columbia professor Mia Fredricksen flees Brooklyn to spend the summer in her Minnesota hometown. There she is in the company of her mother and four other feisty old ladies, the young mother next door, and the seven hormone-addled pubescent girls enrolled in her poetry class at the local arts guild. Mia sorts out her agony as only a scorned woman with a Ph.D. in comparative literature can—by pouring it through a sieve of poets, philosophers, and critical theorists. At times these references eclipse the presence of the narrator herself, but even this absence becomes the basis for philosophical rumination, as Mia corresponds online with the anonymous—and at times abusive—Mr. Nobody. Though initially trapped in a claustrophobic cerebral solitude, Mia opens up, and, in so doing, lets in some much needed air to a constricted narrative, so that instead of being another novel of a woman on the brink, this becomes an adroit take on love, men and women, and girls and women.

Quick thoughts:
This novel started out very strong, rambled a bit in the middle (albeit intelligently),  and ultimately ended up a satisfying read.

On the plus side:
* the plot
* the characters, women of all ages and stages of life
* the writing, so smart and engaging

A couple of minuses:
*rambling philosophical asides
* lack of chapter breaks

I loved the beginning of this novel (see my intro post) and even though it seemed to lose steam in the middle, Hustvedt's writing kept me reading. I know I'll be reading more of her work.

My rating:

34 comments:

  1. Haha. I loved the beginning of the novel and then I put it down and never picked it up again. I plan to. I just got sidetracked with other books.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ti - I think you probably read the best part ;-)

      Delete
  2. I hate when books don't have chapter breaks. It is a personal peeve as I guess I am too goal oriented when I read and need to feel like I am making progress. Ha! This sounds interesting and I will have to add to my list and see what else the author has written too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kathleen - I'm the same way! Those chapter breaks are essential to gauge my progress.

      Delete
  3. I'm not familiar with Hustvedt's books but I keep hearing praise for her and to have a great plot, writing, and characters seems to be the trifecta of a great book. Though lack of chapter breaks is a toughie for me with all the picking up and putting down of books I do during the day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Trish - Hustvedt is such a smart, engaging writer. Even though this book had some slow sections, I was impressed enough to want to read more.

      Delete
  4. Bummer! I hate when books start out strong and then fizzle. Thanks for sharing

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Diane - The first 50 or so pages totally drew me in! That was enough to make me want to read more of her work,and I just loved the cast of characters... especially the senior citizens.

      Delete
  5. I read this a couple of years ago and much of it was over my head. I passed it on to my mother and she thought it was terrific. I guess she's smarter than I am.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kathy - Your mother is probably smarter than I am, too... the middle section was a little tedious for me.

      Delete
    2. That's how I felt about What I Loved. It was too much work. I think these kinds of books work well as readalongs because someone else is doing the work with you helping you to clarify your thinking.

      Delete
    3. Rachel- I think you're probably right about the readalong. So when I select my next book by Hustvedt, it probably won't be What I Loved ;-)

      Delete
  6. Since some of it was philosophical/rambling, it's was probably good that it was not a very long book. Thanks for you review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pat - I probably should have added the length as a plus! ;-)

      Delete
  7. I'm not sure this book is for me - I tend to get annoyed with philosophical rambling, but I'm glad it got better for you after the dip in the middle!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sarah - That type of rambling in books generally turns me off, but at least this time I liked the writing.

      Delete
  8. Replies
    1. Care - Thanks... I like this author's style, but am not necessarily pushing the book into the hands of all my friends :)

      Delete
  9. I love Hustvedt's work but this one wasn't my favorite. There were still some gems here, but I think she shines brightest in The Blindfold, What I Loved, and maybe her newest, The Blazing World.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Andi. I want to read another one of her novels, so will investigate those titles.

      Delete
  10. When the middle loses steam, it's so hard for me to keep plowing through. I haven't read any of Hustvedt's works, so I am quite curious about reading one of them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Athira - I could have easily abandoned this one at a couple points, but the writing really prevented me from putting it aside.

      Delete
  11. I'm always drawn to this cover when I see it on the shelves at work, but I don't think it sounds like a book for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anbolyn - I know some of the books that generally appeal to you... this probably isn't one of them.

      Delete
  12. I don't think I could read a book with no chapter breaks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Stacy - It's been a long time since I read a book without chapter breaks...now I remember why ;-)

      Delete
  13. Thanks for an animated review, JoAnn. Sounds like something I'd like to read. Also, I noticed that you're reading The Bell Jar. A few years ago I listened to its audiobook, and after that watched the movie Sylvia (2003), with Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig. Quite good.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Arti - Thanks so much for the recommendation! I'll add Sylvia to my viewing list.

      Delete
  14. I read this a while ago and like you I thought it lost it's way and then recovered. I see she has a new novel which I would like to read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Vintage Reading - I noticed Hustvedt has a new novel. Think I'll see if other bloggers have reviewed it and then add to my list.

      Delete
  15. This one sounds good....as for the minuses, I don't like a book without chapter breaks...it feels like there's no stopping place! And I'm not a fan of long philosophical asides, either...LOL.

    Otherwise, it sounds pretty good.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Laurel-Rain Snow - Yes, those two little complaints definitely detracted from the novel, but not enough to make me give up on the author.

      Delete
  16. I have this one on my shelves and even though it sounds promising it suddenly also sounds a little intimidating?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Iris - Not intimidating, but a little more intellectual than I was expecting. I'd be curios to see what you think of it... Hustvedt is a very talented writer.

      Delete

Thank you for taking the time to comment. These conversations are my favorite part of blogging. Please check back, I almost always respond to comments!

I understand commenting has been a challenge lately, so will now allow anonymous comments. However, I will moderate comments on older posts. Sorry for the inconvenience.

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails