Blasts from the Past: What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt (2003)

Cover ImageThis is the latest in a series of occasional posts featuring books I read years ago about which I was wildly enthusiastic at the time, wanting to press a copy into as many hands as I could.

Anyone who’s had more than a passing conversation with me about books will know that this is one of my favourite novels. It’s sublime but despite several re-readings I’ve never written on it in any detail. I think most bloggers will understand what I mean when I say that it’s far harder to write about a book about which you are completely passionate rather than one that’s simply very good. Below is a brief synopsis but What I Loved is about very much more than those few sentences can convey. Its themes are all-encompassing: art, love, family, friendship, work – life.

The novel is written from the point of view of art historian Leo Hertzberg looking back on his long friendship with Bill Weschler whose work he first discovered in a New York gallery when Bill was a complete unknown. So impressed is Leo with Bill’s work that he tracks him down and their lives become entangled. Hustvedt’s novel is the story of their intense relationship, of the women they live with, their work and their sons both born the same year but whose lives take very different turns.

Hustvedt’s writing has an extraordinary depth. Her descriptions of Bill’s work are wonderfully vivid. She brings to it an art historian’s training coupled with superb descriptive skills. If you haven’t read it yet, please do.

What about you, any blasts from the past you’d like to share?

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20 thoughts on “Blasts from the Past: What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt (2003)”

  1. I have a copy of this in the TBR tower and I’ve been meaning to get to it as I remember how many people loved it when it came out. You’ve definitely persuaded me to bring it to the top of the pile!

    I know exactly what you mean about writing about books you love – I become totally incoherent & can’t write with any objectivity at all!

  2. Agree, a fantastic book.

    My blog hits the five year mark in 2017 and I was thinking about a monthly (or so) retrospective on the books I was also wildly enthusiastic about at the time. So, I’ll probably join you on the odd ‘look back’.

    1. I hope you will, Kate. There great memory jerkers and there’s so much chat out there about new books that it’s good to give some favourite backlist titles a bit of an airing.

  3. I’m in total agreement about this fine novel and have given it as a present to loved ones, who have loved it too, and passed it on to their loved ones. My daren’t re-examine, revisit writer is D H Lawrence, (the novels), His writing was seminal for me. I do however reread the superb short stories, have always beside me his poetry,and I gift collections of his selected poetry on special occasions. Because the selection is brief friends then browse, read and are always delighted.

    1. Delighted to hear that! I’m now at the stage with this one that I’d begin to wonder if I’d misjudged someone if they didn’t enjoy it. Short stories can be a lovely way into an author’s work.

  4. Thanks for the ping-back Susan. Hustvedt is such an excellent writer; subtle and clever and intense. This is one of my favourites of hers, but they’re all really good.

    1. You’re welcome, Belinda. She’s all those things and her writing spans such a wide variety of subjects. A renaissance woman!

  5. Well as you know I did not get on with this book – perhaps time to give it another go. Sometimes it does not work going back to a book – they belong to a particular period of your life. And sometimes it can be brilliant – so what will it be with Cat’s Eye which I am planning to reread and absolutely loved.

    1. I’d forgotten that, Rachel, blanked it out, maybe. You’re right about going back to books years later – you can be left wondering what on earth it was that was quite so great but What I Loved stands the test of time for me. I’ll be interested to hear how Cat’s Eye sits with you, now.

  6. Pingback: Bookish (and not so bookish) Thoughts | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

    1. Looking forward to seeing your blasts from the past, Kate. Cleo’s idea had caught my eye, too, although I have a while to go until I’m five.

  7. Haven’t come across it (late starter remember ) but reading post Susan this I certainly will be adding it to my TBR … really like the sound of the premise but that you feel so passionate about it is a definite draw!

  8. I tried reading Siri Hustvedt a few years ago when she was in the running for the booker prize but must admit I gave up on he book (the structure was too confusing)

    1. I think that’s The Blazing World which is not a good place to start with Ms Hustvedt! What I Loved is very much more straightforward.

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