“WHAT I LOVED” by SIRI HUSTVEDT
“I’ve always thought that love thrives on a certain kind of distance, that it requires an awed separateness to continue. Without that necessary remove, the physical minutiae of the other person grows ugly in its magnification.” –What I Loved (2003)
There are these rare occasions where you come across a book that moves you to a point that the words on the pages linger in your mind like memories of a lost lover. You find moments, while flipping the pages, where you are taken away to a rather different plane than the one you’re currently inhabiting. The world that Siri Hustvedt takes you in this book is one of a kind. Something gentle, something unnerving and often something honest.
If your idea of an alternate world is something right out of a Tolkein tale, this might not be for you. But I do suggest this book if you are in any way inclined to expand your reading horizons. The book is littered with references to artists and their art work to a point where it is hard to keep up and the author’s passion and experience with art is on full display in these pages. She manages to bring you into the art world 1970s New York, an unapologetic and energised time for creativity. There is a lot to understand in context of the theme of the book considering it takes place within the abundance of the rich and brash New York art scene.
The characters of the brooding and talented artist Bill Weschler and the nature of the art historian Leo Hertzberg play out in such a smooth fashion that before you know it you have the front row seat into a blossoming camaraderie. The juxtaposition of the two characters growth, their relationship with each other, their lovers/spouses and their families make this story a rather personal rendition of life. The trials and tribulations of a lasting friendship based on respect, love and admiration of each other is portrayed beautifully. So well that I am rather envious of these characters for having had such a loving friendship. There are obvious flaws within each character which is visible to the readers throughout the stretch of the book and the story just meanders into these flaws in a fashion that makes it more real than fictional.
There is not a single moment where I felt I was reading a book, such is the grace and talent of Siri Hustvedt. The involvement is personal and so grounded in reality that one cannot help but empathise, relate and find our own reflections in these characters. That is the charm of this book. The ability to not just take us through the lives of the characters but also to bring us to a point where we understand that these lives and these stories could very well be our own.
If there is anything that I can take away from this author as an inspiration as a writer would be her ability to express reality in as realistic terms as possible. Yes, it might sound like an overused expression but it is not to be taken lightly. The simplicity and economy of words in the rendition of love and life is second to none. The expression of pain and suffering when facing life and within one’s art are so wonderfully expressed that it is difficult to point out my favourite lines without spoiling the book.
There are more books to be read, new authors to explore and many more lives to explore. If there is a place to begin understanding pain and knowing what it is like to have fulfilling friendship, I highly recommend that you read this book. While the world right now seems to close in within these four walls, a journey to New York in the 1970s through the eyes of these characters is worth wearing your shoes for. I came to the world of Siri Hustvedt late but so incredible are her words, I am sad that I ever left.
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