Summary and book reviews of The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

The Blazing World

by Siri Hustvedt

The Blazing World
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2014, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2014, 384 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Morgan Macgregor

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

A brilliant, provocative novel about an artist who, after years of being ignored by the art world, conducts an experiment: she conceals her female identity behind three male fronts.

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.

Excerpt
The Blazing World

After she moved to Brooklyn, my mother collected strays—human strays, not animals. every time i went to visit her, there seemed to be another "assistant," poet, drifter, or just plain charity case living in one of the rooms, and i worried they might take advantage of her, rob her, or even kill her in her sleep. i worry too much; it's chronic. i became the worrier in the family—my job. The man who called himself the Barometer lived with mother for a long time. he had spent two weeks in Bellevue not long before he landed on her doorstep. he rattled on about the words of the winds and made peculiar gestures to lower the humidity. When i mentioned my anxiety about him to my mother, she said, "But, maisie, he's a gentle person, and he draws very well." She was right about him, as it turned out. he became the subject of one of my films, but there were other, more fleeting and unsavory characters who kept me up at night until Phineas came along ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Discuss Harry's partnerships with Anton Tish, Phineas Q. Eldridge, and Rune in relation to the artwork she created for each of them. How did each partnership differ from the other two? Why did Harry choose these three men?
  2. How did the novel's multi-voiced, fragmentary style affect your reading experience? In the introduction, I.V. Hess writes, "All of Burden's notebooks may be read as forms of dialogue" (p. 6). Did this comment help you navigate the novel's structure? What role does dialogue play in the novel as a whole?
  3. Harry tells stories of other artists who used pseudonyms or false identities to present their work to the world. Alice Sheldon had two personas: James Tiptree and Racoona Sheldon (pp. 186–188). ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The theme that carries through is a concern with how and why we look at things the way we do. We realize that, alas, this perception is the only truth. Of course, nowhere is the idea more heightened than in the art world, where the commodification of image means the difference between success and failure, and where artworks accrue merit based on the perceived "value" of the artists themselves. After all, what makes something Art? Siri Hustvedt has written a superb, important, and wildly engrossing novel. I have only just finished the last page and I already miss the characters in that blazing world as I would miss dear friends. You must read this book.   (Reviewed by Morgan Macgregor).

Full Review Members Only (774 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Larger-than-life Harry reads vociferously, loves fervently, and overflows with intellectual and creative energy…This is a funny, sad, through-provoking, and touching portrait of a woman who is blazing with postfeminist fury and propelled by artistic audacity.

Library Journal

Intelligent and evidently knowledgeable about the world of modern art, theory, and philosophy, Hustvedt describes in detail the insular world of the New York City art scene. References to cultural exemplars from Hegel to Kierkegaard are included as footnotes and discussions among the characters, but the most meaningful connections for the reader are those between mothers and daughters. Despite the smart tone, the novel does not invest the matters at hand with a feeling of importance.

Booklist

Starred Review. A heady, suspenseful, funny, and wrenching novel of creativity, identity, and longing.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Blazing indeed: not just with Harry's fury, but with agonizing compassion for all of wounded humanity.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

James Tiptree Jr.

In The Blazing World, the protagonist Harriet Burden's notebooks often include references to female artists, writers and intellectuals who struggled for recognition in male-dominated circles. One of the writers she mentions is James Tiptree Jr., an award-winning science fiction author who turned out to be a woman named Alice Bradley Sheldon.

Alice Bradley Sheldon, aka James Tiptree Jr. Born in 1915 to prominent Chicago naturalists, Sheldon spent a good deal of her childhood traveling the world, most notably accompanying her parents on several celebrated expeditions to the African Congo, where they hunted large game and lived among Pygmy tribes. After studying painting at Sarah Lawrence College, marrying and divorcing her first husband, and having the first of many struggles ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Blazing World, try these:

  • Tender jacket

    Tender

    by Belinda McKeon

    Published 2016

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    A searing novel about longing, intimacy and obsession from the award-winning author of Solace.

  • Tuesday Nights in 1980 jacket

    Tuesday Nights in 1980

    by Molly Prentiss

    Published 2016

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    An intoxicating and transcendent debut novel that follows a critic, an artist, and their shared muse as they find their way - and ultimately collide - amid the ever-evolving New York City art scene of the 1980s.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes

Books with similar themes


Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Opposite of Everyone
by Joshilyn Jackson

"Quirky and appealing characters, an engaging story, and honest dialogue make this a great book!"
- BookBrowse

About the book
Join the discussion!

Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: All We Have Left
    All We Have Left
    by Wendy Mills
    September 11, 2001 is a date that few Americans will ever forget. It was on this day that our ...
  • Book Jacket: A Great Reckoning
    A Great Reckoning
    by Louise Penny
    Canadian author Louise Penny is back with her twelfth entry in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache ...
  • Book Jacket: Homegoing
    Homegoing
    by Yaa Gyasi
    It's all very well to challenge people to be the masters of their own destiny, but when you&#...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Victoria
    by Daisy Goodwin

    Daisy Goodwin breathes new life into Victoria's story, and does so with sensitivity, verve, and wit." - Amanda Foreman

    Read Member Reviews

Who Said...

More Anagrams

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

The Big Holiday Wordplay:
$400+ in Prizes

Enter Now

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.