Reviewed The Summer without Men by Siri Hustvedt on National radio this morning. What a book! I wasn't well yesterday and read it in one blissful afternoon. Absolutely recommended. As one reviewer said about Hustvedt's last novel, 'The Sorrows of an American': it's “a rare writer who can rouse the mind and grip the heart”.
This is the story of Mia, 55, whose husband wants a 'pause' in their relationship so he can pursue a French colleague (henceforth called 'The Pause'), leaving her in a situation where she finds herself having a 'pause from men' of all sorts, at the same time as going through the 'menopause'.
Shot through with cleverness, mordant humour, insight, and warmth, the novel explores the quotidien domestic life of women (Mia herself, her elderly Mum and her mates The Swans, a bunch of pubescent female would-be poets, a neighbour with young children ...) and shores it up with references to gender studies, literature, evolutionary biology, philosophy, magic - you name it. Not a straight narrative at all, this novel is a ragbag of everything from poetry to book notes to lectures to lists, and there are the welcome metafictional devices (used so wonderfully by the author's husband Paul Auster) when the author intervenes, when the reader becomes a character...
Ultimately this is a subversive book - like the subversive applique art the elderly Abigail sews inside her tea cosies and table runners. You have to be on your toes.
If you're like me, you'll laugh, puzzle, rage, and - yes - as Mia puts it in the book: take it like a woman, and weep.
[For more, check out the review.]