Synopses & Reviews
With The Blazing World
, internationally bestselling author Siri Hustvedt returns to the New York art world in her most masterful and urgent novel since What I Loved
. Hustvedt, who has long been celebrated for her “beguiling, lyrical prose” (The Sunday Times Books
, London), tells the provocative story of the artist Harriet Burden. After years of watching her work ignored or dismissed by critics, Burden conducts an experiment she calls Maskings
: she presents her own art behind three male masks, concealing her female identity.
The three solo shows are successful, but when Burden finally steps forward triumphantly to reveal herself as the artist behind the exhibitions, there are critics who doubt her. The public scandal turns on the final exhibition, initially shown as the work of acclaimed artist Rune, who denies Burden’s role in its creation. What no one doubts, however, is that the two artists were intensely involved with each other. As Burden’s journals reveal, she and Rune found themselves locked in a charged and dangerous game that ended with the man’s bizarre death.
Ingeniously presented as a collection of texts compiled after Burden’s death, The Blazing World unfolds from multiple perspectives. The exuberant Burden speaks — in all her joy and fury — through extracts from her own notebooks, while critics, fans, family members, and others offer their own conflicting opinions of who she was, and where the truth lies.
From one of the most ambitious and internationally renowned writers of her generation, The Blazing World is a polyphonic tour de force. An intricately conceived, diabolical puzzle, it explores the deceptive powers of prejudice, money, fame, and desire. Emotionally intense, intellectually rigorous, ironic, and playful, Hustvedt’s new novel is a bold, rich masterpiece, one that will be remembered for years to come.
"Art isn't easy, and according to Hustvedt (What I Loved), the art market can be especially rough on women who are over 40, overweight, and overtly intellectual, which is why the novel's protagonist, Harriet 'Harry' Burden, a frustrated artist and art dealer's widow, exhibits her artwork using male stand-ins in a performance art experiment that goes terribly awry. Suffering from deep depression after her husband's death, followed by extreme elation, Harry relocates to Brooklyn, where she produces modern masterpieces dotted with clues to her identity, then shows them under a male collaborator's name. Her first mask, a minor artist, chafes at the role, but the second, biracial gay Phineas Q. Eldridge, proves more amenable, while the third the meanest and most dangerous enjoys the limelight so much he denies Harry's claims to authorship. Larger-than-life Harry reads vociferously, loves fervently, and overflows with intellectual and creative energy. Structurally, her Pygmalion-turned-Frankenstein tale is recounted through a variety of narrators, including an art critic; a New Age art groupie; Harry's children, friends, and detractors; and Harry herself. Hustvedt dissects the art world with ironic insight. Footnotes and academic references, a large cast of characters, a wide range of narrative voices, intellectual digressions, and occasional one-liners enrich this novel of the New York art scene. This is a funny, sad, thought-provoking, and touching portrait of a woman who is blazing with postfeminist fury and propelled by artistic audacity. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"A heady, suspenseful, funny, and wrenching novel of creativity, identity, and longing." Booklist, starred review
"As in her previous masterpiece, What I Loved (2003), Hustvedt paints a scathing portrait of the art world, obsessed with money and the latest trend, but superb descriptions of Harry's work — installations expressing her turbulence and neediness — remind us that the beauty and power of art transcend such trivialities. If only art could heal Harry, who learns the risks of entrusting others with your own unfinished business when the third of her male masks refuses to play her endgame. She dies less than a year later (no spoiler; we learn this from the opening pages), and the book closes with a moving final vision of her art: every one of those wild, nutty, sad things...alive with the spirit. Blazing indeed: not just with Harry's fury, but with agonizing compassion for all of wounded humanity." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
From the internationally bestselling author, praised for her “beguiling, lyrical prose” (The Sunday Times Review
, UK), comes a brilliant, provocative novel about an artist, Harriet Burden, who after years of being ignored by the art world conducts an experiment: she conceals her female identity behind three male fronts.
Presented as a collection of texts, edited and introduced by a scholar years after the artist’s death, the book unfolds through extracts from Burden’s notebooks and conflicting accounts from others about her life and work. Even after she steps forward to reveal herself as the force behind three solo shows, there are those who doubt she is responsible for the last exhibition, initially credited to the acclaimed artist Rune. No one doubts the two artists were involved with each other. According to Burden’s journals, she and Rune found themselves locked in a charged and dangerous psychological game that ended with the man’s bizarre death.
From one of the most ambitious and internationally celebrated writers of her generation, Hustvedt’s The Blazing World is a polyphonic tour de force. It is also an intricately conceived, diabolical puzzle that addresses the shaping influences of prejudice, money, fame, and desire on what we see in one another. Emotionally intense, intellectually rigorous, ironic, and playful, this is a book you won’t be able to put down.
About the Author
Siri Hustvedt was born in 1955 in Northfield, Minnesota, and received her PhD from Columbia University. She is the internationally acclaimed author of five novels, The Sorrows of an American, What I Loved, The Enchantment of Lily Dahl, The Blindfold, and The Summer Without Men, as well as a growing body of nonfiction. She has lectured on artists and theories of art at the Prado, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, and won the International Gabarron Award for Thought and Humanities in 2012. She lives in Brooklyn.