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The Summer without Men by Siri Hustvedt

  1. 10
    A Room of One's Own and Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf (tandah)
    tandah: Reflection on one's existence in relation to others
  2. 00
    Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (tandah)

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English (36)  French (3)  Spanish (3)  Swedish (2)  German (1)  Norwegian (1)  Finnish (1)  Danish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (49)
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
I loved that there were so many well-drawn characters in this book. There was Abigail, the octogenarian who embroidered art secretly in pockets and linings of her clothes; Mr. Nobody, a character who presents himself anonymously to Mia to criticize her at first and later to engage her intellectually; there is Lola, Mia's neighbor who perseveres with two children and a husband who may be censored or pitied; there is Mia's junior high girls' poetry group, which forms a bullying coven against one of its members. In the end, Hustvedt, in the midst of feminist monologues, treats them all with grace, understanding, and good humor. ( )
1 vote WintersRose | Nov 30, 2014 |
Mia Fredrickson, a middle-aged experimental poet, is told by Boris, her husband of thirty years, that he wants a pause from their marriage. After a brief psychotic break which leads to a stay in a psychiatric facility, she leaves New York for her hometown in Minnesota. For the summer she becomes immersed in an all-female world: she teaches a poetry class to seven tween girls, gets to know the Five Swans, her mother’s feisty octogenarian friends, and becomes acquainted with a neighbour, a mother with two young children. Feeling that she has lost her identity, she tries to find herself by connecting with other women.

Mia, the narrator, offers numerous digressions about her life, both past and present, and personal musings on psychology, philosophy and literature. Sometimes the name-dropping of great thinkers just seemed pretentious, especially since Mia seems to spend more time examining philosophies than her own emotions and options. She claims to have “drowned in anger and grief” (182), but there is little of those raw feelings exposed.

Though plot is not the major element of a novel for me, the lack of action makes the book tedious. Half way through, Mia addresses the reader directly and promises, “There will be ACTION” (105). At that point, I wanted to scream, “Yes, please!” The author obviously recognized a deficiency in the first half of the book, but did nothing to rectify it. Several references are made to literary devices (deus ex machina, chronology) followed by explanations of why she choose to use or not use them. Such discussions only slow the already slow pace.

One of my major problems with the book is that I never connected with Mia. I couldn’t identify with her and didn’t really care about her. Perhaps the issue is that she is just too passive. She has let life happen to her and she has let Boris take charge of what happens in their marriage; there is never any doubt that she will take Boris back should the opportunity arise . Not once does she consider choices she can make now that Boris has excused himself from their marital relationship. She speaks of marriage as an entanglement: “our bodies and thoughts and memories had gotten themselves so tangled up that it was hard to see where one person’s ended and the other’s began” (215). She never really considers even trying to untangle herself.

Also in terms of characterization is the issue that the many other female characters fail to emerge as individuals. Aside from Abigail, the Five Swans blend into each other. The seven pre-adolescents are also largely indistinguishable. I love novels focusing on character, and the lack of differentiation really bothered me. Actually, there seemed a very concerted effort to touch on every stage of a woman’s life: toddler, adolescent, mother, widow. A variety of girls/women represent various aspects of the contemporary female experience: heterosexual/homosexual and married/divorced/never married and bully/victim. Because the females serve primarily to illustrate some aspect of womanhood, they are more symbols than people.

There is a heavy-handedness to the author’s examination of the conflict between the imaginary and the real: “I mediated for a moment on the imaginary and the real, on wish fulfillment, on fantasy, on stories we tell ourselves about ourselves” (103). She concludes that “none of us can ever untangle the knot of fictions that make up that wobbly thing we call a self” (188), but relationships can only work if “The unreal no longer occludes the real” (164). That everyone has hidden stories and sometimes represses aspects of one’s personality is hardly an original observation.

These weaknesses do not mean that there are no good points in the book. There are scenes, the episodes with Abigail for example, which stand out. The wordplay is often witty: “Can I really blame Boris for his Pause, for his need to seize the day, for snatching the pausal snatch” (135). Unfortunately, these strengths do not sufficiently redeem the book for me.

I expected a woman’s personal journey to find herself to be more personal and less an intellectual exercise. ( )
  Schatje | May 24, 2014 |
Another excellent book by Siri Hustvedt. There were moments of reading where I was very uncomfortable - it felt like pages of my own unwritten journal were included here. ( )
  viviennestrauss | Jan 4, 2014 |
This book blurs the boundaries between fiction and academia just too much for me and the endless references to psychology, philosophy etc just got to be too much and disrupted the development of the story and characterisation. This is a shame because I really enjoyed Hustvedt's 'What I Loved'. ( )
  sianpr | Dec 1, 2013 |
Polymathic chicklit with a PhD: something I'd been hoping to find for ten years. Some time ago I had concluded it just didn't get published as there wasn't enough of an audience.

I'd never read Siri Hustvedt before, assuming that her books were yet more run-of-the-mill English-language literary fiction. (The rest of her work does still sound that way to me, TBH.) But a few weeks ago I idly clicked on Amazon reviews for this book, and among the more negative ones, it was criticised by chicklit readers for being too pretentious, and by literary readers for being too superficial. And also, how was it a Summer Without Men if she quoted male writers and philosophers all the time?

This tale of Mia, an academic and poet on a break from her marriage sounded very promising.

We have such chicklit cliches such as a younger, French Other Woman; going back to a former home-town after a relationship breakup; one-sided ranting about the failings of the errant man; a group of schoolgirls who remind the protagonist of her younger days; a book group of elderly ladies reading Jane Austen; characters who - whilst not noted for their wealth - never worry about money.

Alongside such things, standard chicklit often has bright characters who are denoted by brief references to their study or work and the use of a couple of longer words in conversation - but if you'd like to know more about that side of them, you're inevitably disappointed.
Not here. Reflections on the ideas of philosophers and poets (and not just the best-known ones) form substantial parts of Mia's thoughts; we have a page-long ponder of affective neuroscience; an obscure set of Goya prints form an apt backdrop to a scene involving bitchy preteens; punning references to the linguistic turn; and the ridiculously hip occurrence of some subversive vintage embroidery... I could go on. I like it when a book gives me a few things I don't know, to look up, but not so many that this interrupts the flow of the story, and this was perfect on that count.

Mia feels very deeply and thinks & knows very deeply too. If she were a real person I would want to be friends with her.

I only had two disappointments with this book.
One: it doesn't have chapters.

Two: the lack of references to psychology other than Freud, and that Mia didn't seek to tie up some of the neuroscience musings with her own experiences of a brief breakdown and recovery, or the past aspects of her relationship. Some attachment theory, for instance, would have worked perfectly. I recall a couple of other reviewers saying there was too much self-analysis in this book; I would have liked more, if the narrator accompanied it with reference and theory, as she does so well in some other subject areas.

I loved this book, but I hesitate to give it five stars - at least on here - to stand in my list alongside the likes of Kavalier and Clay and Middlemarch; yet its moments of glaring cliche, alongside its erudition, are what made it work so very well for me as comfort reading.

Read 13-21 Jan 2012. ( )
1 vote antonomasia | Apr 4, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
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".
Hustvedt creates a voice for Mia that is witty, concise, demanding; delighted by the concordances of sounds in words, compassionate and aware of its own faults. Hustvedt shows us Mia as she stumbles through the female relationships around her, all painted in with a wry eye.
Velment, men ikke helt vellykket
Siri Hustvedt er med sitt navn og sine aner liksom litt norsk, selv om hun er oppvokst i Minnesota og nå bor i Brooklyn. Hun skriver sine bøker på engelsk, og de oversettes til mange språk, deriblant norsk. Hennes siste roman er velment, men ikke udelt vellykket.
added by annek49 | editNRK, Anne Cathrine Straume (Mar 22, 2011)
Spenstig om kvinneliv
Siri Hustvedts nye roman «Sommeren uten menn» har en overraskende letthet kombinert med en intellektuell spenst og vitalitet som synes å ha blitt forfatterens varemerke.
Siri Hustvedt byr på mye humor og mye klok menneskelig innsikt i denne nye og tynne lille romanen på drøye 200 sider. Med utgangspunkt i en utroskapshistorie av den svært konvensjonelle og slitesterke typen: Middelaldrende ektemann vil ha en pause fra sitt 30-årige fellesliv med sin kone Mia for å dyrke sin nye franske og unge lidenskap, stiger det fram en fortelling om kvinneliv i flere generasjoner. Det hele fortalt med omtanke og omsorg, med brutalt klarsyn og med høyt refleksjonsnivå
added by annek49 | editDagsavisen, Turid Larsen (Mar 16, 2011)
Er det mulig å tilgi en utro ektemann?
Siri Hustvedt har skrevet en sjeldent god bok ANMELDELSE: Når jeg leser en bok, setter jeg alltid eselører ved de sidene der jeg finner noe virkelig godt. I «Sommeren uten menn» kunne jeg gjerne hatt flere på hver eneste side. For dette er en sjeldent god bok
added by annek49 | editDagbladet, Cathrine Krøger (Mar 14, 2011)
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LUCY (Irene Dunne): You're all confused, aren't you?
JERRY (Cary Grant): Uh-huh. Aren't you?
JERRY: Well, you should be, because you're wrong about things being different because they're not the same. Things are different, except in a different way. You're still the same, only I've been a fool. Well, I'm not now. So, as long as I'm different, don't you think things could be the same again? Only a little different.

- "The Awful Truth"
directed by Leo McCarey
screenplay by Viña Delmar
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Sometime after he said the word "pause", I went mad and landed in the hospital.
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Mia is forced to reexamine her life when her husband puts their marriage on "pause" after thirty years. She returns to the prairie town of her childhood, and is drawn into the lives of those around her.

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