Sceptre £7.99 (216pp). £7.59 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Summer Without Men, By Siri Hustvedt
Friday 12 August 2011
"Pause" is the seemingly small word that triggers the end of poet Mia Fredriksen's 30-year marriage. When her husband Boris asks for a "pause" to take up with a young French colleague - a woman with "significant breasts, narrow rectangular glasses, and an excellent mind" - Mia finds herself heading for a dose of "Brief Reactive Psychosis".
After a brief stay in a psychiatric unit, she retreats to her childhood home in Minnesota to consider the "cruel crack of hope" lodged in her husband's request. It's here, in the small town of Bonden, that she's drawn into a new web of female friendships. Her mother lives with a group of feisty widows known as The Five Swans. Her new neighbour is a brow-beaten young mother; and then there are the seven teenage girls who attend her poetry workshop. Over the summer, Mia finds herself re-evaluating long-held assumptions about men and women and the possibilities of married love.
Siri Hustvedt's fiction tends to be injected with Scandinavian melancholia. Her two most recent novels, What I Loved, a tale about love and death in the New York art world, and The Sorrows of An American, concerning a therapist's efforts to understand his dead father, both swirl with painful emotion. Here, although the subject matter is serious - a woman's search for her lost identity - the tempo is upbeat. In a narrative without chapter breaks, Hustvedt explores the idea that differences between the genders is less important than "how much difference the difference makes".
The widows at her mother's retirement village offer a template of what life might be like after men. Abigail, the most fully drawn of the group, reaches out to Mia sharing her "private amusements" - a cache of embroidered quilts, runners and tea-cosies which, when examined closely, reveal Tracey Emin-esque scenes of masturbation, transgressive love and domestic toil. Mia's relationship with her pubescent poets proves no less complex. Initially drawn to the "poignant realities of girls on the cusp", she encounters cruelty as the lip-glossed "coven" turn on its most bookish member. Stitched through the story is the fate of Mia's broken marriage. Hustvedt throws erudite observations on genetics and philosophy into the mix. Knowing better than to tie up every loose end, Hustvedt understands, like Abigail, when to freeze-frame the story at the right moment.
game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 If I were Prime Minister: I'd give tax cuts to the rich, keep Trident, and get my football team wrong
- 2 General Election 2015: 14-year-old boy asks Nick Clegg – 'can you kill Katie Hopkins?'
- 3 University student in court for allegedly covering housemates' food in window cleaner and spit
- 4 Ryan Gosling posts tribute to 'Ryan Gosling Won't Eat His Cereal' creator Ryan McHenry
- 5 Garland shooting: Isis claims attack on Prophet Mohamed cartoon contest in Texas as its first action on US soil
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
Eurovision 2015: What date is the song contest and who are the favourites to win?
Game of Thrones, season 5 episode 4, review: Sansa in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
Noel Gallagher 'cannot wait' to hear Oasis-inspired One Direction album but rants about 'pointless' Tidal and Spotify
Top Gear: Paul Hollywood criticises BBC's handling of Jeremy Clarkson - 'whether he left is almost immaterial'
In defence of liberal democracy
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally