What I Loved: Siri Hustvedt

I bought this book some years ago, despite what seemed to me to be a damning review on amazon. Though I don’t lend much weight to reviews generally (unless I know and trust the reviewer), it seems this review permeated my subconscious enough to put me off picking it up until recently. I’d like to think that whilst it has been sat on my bookshelf, it has been maturing, as I certainly found it an intense affair with depth and an addictive quality. The language that Hustvedt has mastery of is sumptuous but never gratuitous: it incarnates the characters to such an extent that you can imagine being in the same room as them; you can imagine meeting them. As the title suggests, the book is (ostensibly) about loss; about what has gone before. What I Loved is a tale, the telling of which has strength and vitality, but don’t expect a point or a moral: the story is life-like in its absence of conclusion. The book is laced with creativity and ‘art’: our characters are immersed in a world where art matters – one is an artist, another an art historian – the picture that Hustvedt paints of this world is detailed and thorough, a feat of unlimited imagination and creative sensibilities. Hustvedt brings to life numerous bodies of work that are conceived and created, that are critiqued and dissected, that are received and reviewed, that fester and mutate… and it strikes me that this as authentic and ‘real’ as art gets. There is so much work that can’t be touched or viewed ‘in the flesh’, that operates on a premise of concept: the legend of a piece is bound by language and permeates cultural society through media that often belie the fact that the work existed to the point that it is inconsequential whether it did. Through Bill, Hustvedt lives and creates an artist’s life work in a temporal space that both spans a lifetime and lasts the years of Hustvedt’s own life to the point at which the book became other. The works are not simply imagined – their exhibition and reception is also offered, giving Hustvedt a rare position as both artist and critic, both audience and curator. However, as with any piece of work, this position dwindles when the work (in theis case, the book) is given up for public consumption.

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