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What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

What I Loved (2003)

by Siri Hustvedt

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2,097493,146 (3.94)148
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Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
This is a hard book for me to review. I read Hustvedt's brand new book, The Blazing World last year and loved it so I've been looking forward to trying more of Hustvedt's work. What I Loved has a lot in common with The Blazing World; both books revolve around the contemporary art world and show Hustvedt's vast knowledge of art and literary scholarship. But where I thought this knowledge served the story well in The Blazing World, I ended up feeling like the long art descriptions and academic discourses disrupted the plot and made me dislike the pretentious characters.

[What I Loved] is told from the point of view of Leo Hertzberg, an art history professor who is looking back on his adult life. He starts his story with meeting a artist named Bill Weschler. Bill is unhappily married to Lucille and Leo is just married to Erica. The four become friends and both have sons around the same time. Bill ends up leaving Lucille for Violet, a woman he has used in his paintings. Leo and Erica embrace Violet as Lucille was always hard to deal with. The first part of this book is filled with their adult relationships and academic endeavors. It is the part that I found a bit pretentious.

The second part begins with a tragedy. Leo and Erica's son, Matt, dies in a boating accident while he's away at camp. This part of the book almost did me in. The way that Hustvedt writes about and dwells in grief was too intense for me. I had to put the book aside for a few days and seriously contemplated not returning to it. I suppose the realism says something positive about her writing but it was almost too much for me. I made it through the heart of that section though, and it got easier to read from there.

The third part focuses of Bill's son, Mark. Mark is a troubled youth - lying constantly, taking drugs, and in with the wrong crowd, including an adult artist who produces highly violent and graphic art and is something of a sensation in the art world. Mark's character is never fully revealed; it remains a bit murky whether he is evil at heart or has fallen in to the wrong crowd. The relationships between Leo, Bill, Violet, and Erica really have fallen apart by the end of the book, in part due to the tragedy in part 2 and in part due to Mark's behavior. (I'm being a bit oblique here to not give away some plot elements)

As I write about this book, I realize that there is a lot to think about here and that I did appreciate the quality of the writing and the ideas Hustvedt develops. Unfortunately, I didn't really connect with this book and found some of the plot elements too sad to let me enjoy the book. I also think I didn't really ever like Leo, which doesn't help in a first person narrative.

I will read more of Hustvedt's work, but wouldn't really recommend this one as a starting point. ( )
1 vote japaul22 | Aug 24, 2015 |
Siri Hustvedt's latest novel "The Blazing World" was the first I read. After this, she is fast becoming one of my favourite writers, and both books are potential classics. In a sense they are companion pieces, set in the New York art world and dealing with psychological theories and disorders.

This book takes the form of a memoir written by an aging man, an art historian looking back at his life, that of his best friend, an artist, the women they loved and their children. Hustvedt's ability to inhabit his mind is uncanny, and her characters are all fully realised, interesting and sympathetic.

Like another of my favourite writers, A.S. Byatt, Hustvedt has the ability to pack many disparate and sopisticated ideas into a story while retaining suspense and readability. ( )
  bodachliath | Jul 30, 2015 |
This novel is an intense psychological study of each of its characters. In that respect, it bogged down for me. Reading it took time and concentration and a huge effort to keep going, the equivalent of a marathon road race. When you finally complete it, however, you feel as if you really accomplished something. Relationships are topsy-turvy and the partners are never really okay with the outcomes. Parenting skills suffer from an excess of over-caring. Does anyone come away unharmed? ( )
  musichick52 | Apr 29, 2015 |
After I got the hang of this book, I could hardly put it down. What a great read.
There's so much going on in this book, that it would be unfair to write that it is about friendship. Yes, friendship is the start of the book as it is and it plays a big role in the book as a whole, but there is so much more.
Different kinds of love, betrayal, loss and grieving. There's so much here that I'm surprised this relatively thin book doesn't explode.

Despite I'll be starting a new book today, this one will linger on in the background for a while. Maybe I'll even try to get a hold of the Dutch version, to spread the word, so to say. ( )
  BoekenTrol71 | Mar 17, 2015 |
As an old man, partially blind, the retired art historian Leo Hertzberg looks back upon his marriage to Erica, his experience of fatherhood and above all his long friendship with artist Bill Weschler, Bill's first wife Lucille and second wife Violet, and his son Mark. From the early days of Bill's career (when Leo bought the first of his paintings) to the time when Bill is the darling of the art world (at least in Europe if not quite in New York) the families are close. The Weschlers even move in to the apartment above the Hertzberg's, and the closeness is further emphasized when their two baby boys are born within a few weeks of each other.

Much of the first part of the book chronicles Leo and Bill's growing friendship, the breakdown of Bill's first marriage to Lucille and subsequent marriage to Violet and detailed descriptions of Bill's art and Violet's study of the perception of hysteria in nineteenth century women. But at the start of Part Two a family tragedy occurs which throws the comfortable life of the couples into disarray, and which influences their lives for the remainder of the book.

I have to say that I didn't really enjoy this book at all. I didn't find the general depiction of the New York art world at all appealing, and the specific depictions of Bill's art were tedious and far too lengthy. And I didn't really care about or believe in any of the characters. Bill in particular is supposed to be a charismatic character ('Bill had glamour - that mysterious quality of attraction that seduces strangers' and when Leo was introduced to him he 'felt like a dwarf who had just been introduced to a giant'), but I certainly didn't think that this magnetism was conveyed to the reader. As the book develops it seems to develop more of the characteristics of a psychological thriller, raising certain expectations about how the rest of the book will develop, but then seems to lose these again so the expectations are dashed.

I would probably not have finished this book if it hadn't been my next RL book club choice. To be honest I'd doubt if I'd have got beyond page 10 or so. ( )
3 vote SandDune | Oct 3, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Siri Hustvedtprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Holt, Heleen tenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rikman, KristiinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Paul Auster
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Yesterday, I found Violet's letters to Bill.
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Friendship, art and love
- things to look back at after
life is mostly lived.

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312421192, Paperback)

What I Loved begins in New York in 1975, when art historian Leo Hertzberg discovers an extraordinary painting by an unknown artist in a SoHo gallery. He buys the work; tracks down the artist, Bill Wechsler; and the two men embark on a life-long friendship. Leo's story, which spans twenty-five years, follows the growing involvement between his family and Bill's--an intricate constellation of attachments that includes the two men, their wives, Erica and Violet, and their sons, Matthew and Mark.

The families live in the same New York apartment building, rent a house together in the summers and keep up a lively exchange of ideas about life and art, but the bonds between them are tested, first by sudden tragedy, and then by a monstrous duplicity that slowly comes to the surface. A beautifully written novel that combines the intimacy of a family saga with the suspense of a thriller, What I Loved is a deeply moving story about art, love, loss, and betrayal.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:34 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Story begins in New York in 1975, when art historian Leo Hertzberg discovers an extraordinary painting by an unknown artist in a SoHo gallery. He buys the work and tracks down the artist, Bill Wechsler, and the two men embark on a life-long friendship. Leo's story spans twenty-five years and follows the evolution of the growing involvement between his family and Bill's--an intricate constellation of attachments that includes the two men their wives, Erica and Violet and their children, Matthew and Mark. Over the years, they not only enjoy love but endure loss.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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