15

Literary Wives: The Blazing World

It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

Please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt.

Ariel @  One Little Library
Kate @ Kate Rae Davis
Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink
TJ @ My Book Strings

The Book

blazing

Artist Harriet Burden has long suspected that her work has been discounted as serious because of her gender. So she decides to test out her theory by having three different men act as her work’s proxies. She chooses the men at different stages of their careers and has them pass off her work as their own, to great critical acclaim. But her last cover, Rune, a successful artist in his own right turns on her, refusing to allow her to claim back her work. Their intense struggle ends only when Rune dies under mysterious circumstances.

 

My Thoughts

I was so ready to like this book. An angry women intent on proving that her industry doesn’t take her seriously because of her gender, a struggle that ends in the bizarre death of her male foil? Sign me up!

Unfortunately, for me, the execution of it left something to be desired. I’m not ever really a huge fan of diary style books. I don’t like the disjointed feeling of articles and research and journal entries making up the narrative of a book and that was no different in the case of The Blazing World. I also found it odd that a book about a woman asserting her place in her creative world was told by other people – maybe that was the point and my dense ass missed it. But it annoyed me. Especially when I was reading articles or interviews by men who were critical of Harriet and her work, calling her a liar and a hanger on and only known because she was the wife of her late husband, the critic Felix Lord (great name). Again, maybe that was the point but it grated on me.

Even when there were sections of the book that I was enjoying, they were always short lived. I never felt like I got a good sense of Harriet, that the chaos of her inner life made it impossible to get to know her. I’m not sure that anyone in her life ever actually got to know her; Phineas Q.Eldridge, her second cover, probably got the closest of anyone.

I was also promised a bizarre death, one that was aswirl with rumour and intrigue and in the end, it was a pretty run of the mill suicide?

I think I got so caught up in the style of the book that I wasn’t able to appreciate the content. Which is a shame because there might have been something to it. For me though, The Blazing World didn’t spark any great feeling in this reader, except relief when I finished it.

What does the book say about being a wife?

It’s taken me a while to get buy head wrapped around the question of being a wife within the scope of The Blazing World. There is the obvious parts that have to do with Harriet married to Felix and how her career took a backseat to his. That while he was a successful art dealer, responsible for kickstarting numerous art careers, she was a wife and mother, known only as “Felix’s wife.”

Most of the time I was struck by Harriet’s anger, not at being a wife, but at being dismissed because of her gender. Right after Felix’s death, she is annoyed at being known  just as her husband’s wife, which is what starts her thinking about her new project. But that project becomes less about having been a wife and more about the disappointments of her work not being critically recognized because they were just the dabblings of a woman. She rages at the men in her life not because she felt trapped in her marriage but because she’s been discounted her entire life, starting with a father who wished she was a boy. She spends her entire life consumed by anger and in the end, it felt like all that rage killed her. It was her reproductive organs, the ones that defined her sex, that turned deadly.

But each of Harriet’s ‘collaborations’ with the male artists she picks for her project can be seen as a kind of creative marriage. Within each relationship Harriet must assert her role, must fight to find the light working in the shadows of her ‘husband.’ Ultimately, with her final ‘husband’, Harriet fails and she withers in the darkness of this failure.

The Blazing World seems to say that if women want success in their careers, they can’t be trapped in marriage, that the demands of a husband, the destructive forces of the needs of children, will destroy any plans for career success. In order for a woman to fulfill her career ambitions, she needs to stand on her own, not weighed down by others. In attempting to show the world that her work hasn’t been seen because she’s been the wrong sex, Harriet discovers that she’s entered into another kind of marriage that has snuffed out the glowing embers of what could have been a great career on her own terms.

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10

Stolen Beauty

You know how there are some book covers that are just gorgeous? And you want to read the book because you want to possess the book just because it’s pretty?

That’s how my lust for Laurie Lico Albanese’s Stolen Beauty started. I mean, look at this book! In person, it’s even better. That gold shine!

stolen beauty

This was one of two books I received for Christmas (what even is my family?) and I read it pretty much right away.

It’s the story of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the beautiful young Jewish woman who became something of a muse to Gustav Klimt. She was the inspiration for his Judith and later sat for a portrait. Stolen Beauty tells the story of Adele as she was, brilliant, a patroness of the arts in Vienna, before she died suddenly in 1925. She wanted the Klimt portrait to be left to Vienna, so that all people could enjoy the piece.

But when the Nazis took over Austria in 1938, Adele’s surviving husband Ferdinand fled, leaving much of his wealth behind. Including the portrait. It is up to Adele’s niece Maria, to try and regain her family’s heritage, to restore the painting to Vienna as her aunt had wished.

Alternating between Adele and Maria’s experiences, decades apart, Stolen Beauty tells the story behind one of the most famous paintings in the world.

This book does an incredible job of bringing Adele to life, fully realized as a young woman who wanted so much to be a part of the intellectual circles of Vienna. She loved her city, she wanted to make a difference to artists and helped to establish a gallery so that all people, no matter their station in life, could enjoy it.

I loved getting to know the woman in the painting – I’d watched the Helen Mirren movie, Woman in Gold but that one is more about the battle of Maria to get the painting back for her family. Adele was this glamorous shadowy figure in that movie. Stolen Beauty brought both sides together for me. I also appreciated that the Maria sections of the book kind of blew threw WWII. Although a pivotal part of the history of these two women, it wasn’t the focus and it easily could have been.

For those of you who are looking for a different kind of historical fiction, I would definitely recommend this one.

2

Chick lit with edge: The Singles Game

The last time I read Lauren Wesiberger I was bitterly disappointed. 

But she’d never let me down before so I was still interested in reading The Singles Game.

I bought a copy last summer and by the time I read it (it was my last read of 2017), I had completely forgotten anything about it except it was about tennis.

From Goodreads:

singles game

Charlotte “Charlie” Silver has always been a good girl. She excelled at tennis early, coached by her father, a former player himself, and soon became one of the top juniors in the world. When she leaves UCLA—and breaks her boyfriend’s heart—to turn pro, Charlie joins the world’s best athletes who travel eleven months a year, competing without mercy for Grand Slam titles and Page Six headlines.

After Charlie suffers a disastrous loss and injury on Wimbledon’s Centre Court, she fires her longtime coach and hires Todd Feltner, a legend of the men’s tour, who is famous for grooming champions. Charlie is his first-ever female player, and he will not let her forget it. He is determined to change her good-girl image—both on the court and off—and transform her into a ruthless competitor who will not only win matches and climb the rankings, but also score magazine covers and seven-figure endorsement deals. Her not-so-secret affair with the hottest male player in the world, sexy Spaniard Marco Vallejo, has people whispering, and it seems like only a matter of time before the tabloids and gossip blogs close in on all the juicy details. Charlie’s ascension to the social throne parallels her rising rank on the women’s tour—but at a major price.

To be honest, none of the summaries of this book do it justice. It makes it sound like it’s all about the tabloids and hot people and glamorous parties and clothes.

This book is much more about Charlie’s journey of self-discovery, of a woman who thought her life was going to look a certain way, only to have to re-evaluate what she wants due to a devastating injury. It’s about perceptions and how things that work for men don’t work well for women.

From the summaries, I assumed we were going to watch Charlie become a self-absorbed jerk and she’d have to find her way back. But Charlie’s focus the whole time is winning and I have to say, it was refreshing to read a book about a heroine so unapologetic about that. She wants to be #1, she wants to get a Grand Slam win, and she knows that she has to make certain changes in her life if she’s going to achieve that.

I was really surprised by the depth of this book. It’s also not written in first person which I cannot tell you how much I appreciated. It allowed some distance but it also gives readers the chance to see the whole picture. And I learned so much about tennis! And the tour! About how hard it is to be a woman on the tour, to have to focus everything on your sport, leaving no room for any distractions, maybe putting off one’s dreams of having a family. About how that’s not the reality for the man AT ALL.

This book ended up being a great way to finish a not-great reading year. I learned a lot and it restored my faith in an author I’d come to depend on. A light read with a little edge.

2

World-building in Artemis

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

One of my husband’s favourite books is Andy Weir’s The Martian. He made me read it and I ended up enjoying it against all odds. Science fiction is very much not my jam and I really don’t like space.

Yeah, I said it.

So not only reading but requesting Weir’s newest, Artemis, was very out of character for me.

artemis

Jasmine ‘Jazz’ Bashara lives in Artemis, the colony on the moon. She works as a porter, a low-paying job that has not-super-legal side-gig potential. But she wants to make a lot more money. Jazz is really smart but never had much time for traditional education routes. Having lived on the moon since she was a small child, she understands the colony like no one else.

When an opportunity comes up through a regular smuggling client, she has the chance to make a lot of money really quickly. But she doesn’t realize she’s suddenly in the middle of a power struggle for control of the moon and it’s resources. Jazz must rely on friends and connections to save the future of the only home she’s ever known.

It sounds a touch dramatic. And it is. But not in a way that’s distracting or annoying. Artemis is a fun space-romp. There’s a murder mystery, power struggles within a completely made up system of government, and some really fun characters.

One quibble I had was that I’m not sure how real Jazz felt to me. I like aspects of her (her brilliance, her take-no-sh*t attitude, but she didn’t feel like a real person. She’s definitely a woman written by a man – she’s sexy but doesn’t really realize it, all men are automatically attracted to her. And science was a really big part of this book which was hard for me because this kind of science always makes me feel like an idiot.

But it was funny and didn’t try to be The Martian which I really appreciated. It was light, it was fast paced and there was some intriguing world building. It almost seemed feasible that at some point, humans could live on the moon!

It was a solid read for me over the Christmas holidays and I can see it being a fun addition to any kind of holiday packing.

18

The year that was…in books

Hello lovely bookish people!

We have made it into 2018 and for me personally, it’s a massive relief. I know last year was a slog for many people, for a variety of reasons and I was right there with you. What I wasn’t expecting, while I was dealing with a whole bunch of crap in my real life, was that my reading love would also take a hit.

I alluded to some of that in this post. I’m very much an avoider so when things get hard, I just don’t deal with them. In many ways, that was true for this space.

But it’s 2018 now and a lot of the stuff that was a problem for me last year has resolved itself. I’m still climbing out of the anxiety spiral I was in but it’s getting brighter every day.

And even in all of that, I still did manage to read some great books so let’s take a look at my reading in 2017 anyway, shall we?

Stats-wise, I finished 114 books. Out of those 114, 76% were written by women and 31% was non-fiction. My representational or diversity reading could have been stronger – only 23% counted as that.

Last year I wanted to re-read more books and I only managed to do that twice.

What were some of my favourites?

  • Anything I read by Roxane Gay. This included An Untamed State, which I read in January and was confident was the book to beat. I still think about it now. Roxane Gay is just…I can’t put into words how much her work means to me. I also read her short story collection, Difficult Women, and her unflinchingly honest memoir, Hunger. I say this all the time, but please, if you haven’t already, read her work.
  • Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge
  • One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway by Asne Seierstad
  • The Break by Katherena Vermette
  • The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. You may recall that I wasn’t a huge fan of the first novel, My Brilliant Friend. But the way that book ended, eventually I found my way back. The rest of the series blew me away. I recommend these books to people all the time and I know that I’m going to a) buy the rest of the books (a case of having borrowed them from the library) and b) read them again one day.
  • Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine. I went down a Bette and Joan rabbit hole this year thanks to the FX Series. This one was my favourite.
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This book is going to be everywhere the closer we get to the movie. Do yourselves a favour and pick up a copy that doesn’t have a move cover.
  • Beartown by Fredrik Backman. I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Backman. Beartown was written in a completely different way and I wasn’t sure that I was enjoying it. But then it clicked and I loved it. A book about hockey in a small-town and what happens when sports dreams are achieved at all costs, it felt like a timely read. Enraging, but timely.
  • Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Peterson.
  • Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes & Jo Piazza.
  • My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella
  • The Break by Marian Keyes
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. This book was a f*&king delight. Jenkins Reid has caught me off guard twice now with the depth of her ‘fluffy’ girl books.
  • How To Stop Time by Matt Haig. Haig always seems to write the books you need without your ever realizing you needed them. This one is no exception and it should be out in Canada in a month or so!
  • The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne. I’ve loaned this out twice already.
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.
  • Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga. It’s been long-listed for Canada Reads 2018 and I can’t think of a more deserving book. This one changed the way I see Canada.

For a year where reading was hard, I still ended up reading some books that really stood out for me.

For 2018, I’m not setting any blogging goals. I want to focus on loving reading again.

Plus, I’m honestly not sure what my reading year will look like. In June, we’re expecting a new little bookworm to join our family. I hear conflicting reports on ease of reading with a new baby. If you have tips or tricks, let me have ’em!

8

Heartwarming without the cheese

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

In this great big scary, f*cked up world, it’s been difficult to find books that strike the right balance. I want something hopeful but not saccharine. Sometimes I want my book to say something, other times I want it to be light hearted and fun.

music shop

The Music Shop, the new book from Rachel Joyce, is a nice light hearted hopeful book that won’t choke you with sweetness.

It’s 1988 and Frank owns a music shop. He only sells vinyl, despite pressure from suppliers to begin stocking CDs, and he will sell you the music that you need, not necessarily what you think you want. He has a special knack for reading people, for seeing the things that they would rather hide, and in his quiet way he’s able to show them that he sees all of them.

But then Ilse Brauchmann walks into his life and he’s completely discombobulated. He just can’t get a read on this quiet woman with the green coat, the dark curls and the intense eyes. When he looks at her he only hears silence. She asks him if he will please teach her about music, the way he sees it and so they begin to meet once a week.

Frank’s record shop is one on a street of mom and pop type businesses. But these businesses have started to close and a development company has been buying up the properties. Frank and his colleagues on the street, Father Anthony with the gift shop, Maud from the tattoo shop, the Williams’ brothers from the Undertakers, all have their livelihood threatened by “progress.”

I wasn’t completely sure where I was going to fall with this book. I was charmed by it early on but I worried that there wouldn’t be enough substance to get me through to the end.

Oh but there was! By the end of this book, I had completely teared up and my heart was soaring. The Music Shop is a lovely book about community and music and love and sticking to your guns. In choosing to set her story in 1988, Joyce has simplified the lives of her characters (in terms of technology) which is one of the only ways I think that this story could have worked. Had it been set in 2017, it wouldn’t have been believable.

And while it’s not unusual to see books that are love letters to reading, I can’t recall ever reading one that was so in love with music. The way Joyce writes about music will have you running to iTunes or even an old record shop to find something that moves you.

Joyce has once again crafted a little story with a big heart but without the cheese. I completely recommend this to those with a bruised heart, or those looking for a sweet escape this holiday season.

5

White Saviour Complex

On a Costco trip in the summer, I picked up a copy of Bianca Marais’ Hum If You Don’t Know the Words. I meant to read it up at the lake at some point but I only just read it.

hum

In June of 1976, Robin and Beauty’s lives will change forever. Nine year old Robin’s idyllic white suburban life comes to a shattering end when her parents are murdered on their way to a party and her maid, Mabel walks out forever. Beauty is in Johannesburg to find her daughter Nomsa, after Nomsa took part in the Soweto Uprising. When Beauty cannot find her she needs to find a way to get papers to stay in the city or she will be arrested.

From Goodreads:

After Robin is sent to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin while continuing the search for her daughter. In Beauty, Robin finds the security and family that she craves, and the two forge an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But Robin knows that if Beauty finds her daughter, Robin could lose her new caretaker forever, so she makes a desperate decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery in which she learns the harsh truths of the society that once promised her protection.

For whatever reason, when I bought this book, I assumed the author was a Black woman. Don’t ask me why, it was just something that made sense in my brain. When I saw that the author was in fact a white woman, I was a little disappointed. When I finally started to read the book, I was impressed by how Marais handled apartheid and the language she uses to describe the times. Marais doesn’t shy away from showing the realities of apartheid and honestly, sometimes the language can be shocking and horrific. Marais shows how a lot of white South Africans had a complete disregard for their Black countrymen and women, how they wouldn’t even see them as people.

I appreciated the way Marais alternated the story between Robin and Beauty’s viewpoints. Each was able to tell her own story, from her own perspective, coloured by the part of South Africa that each inhabits.

But the last third of the book disappointed me. Because in the last third, Robin takes over both stories and becomes a White Saviour.

Suddenly a NINE YEAR OLD GIRL is the one that provides salvation to a grown ass Black woman. A woman who has shown herself to be completely capable of looking after herself, and her family and of navigating a world meant to keep her down.

Robin is a selfish child. She makes decisions about the lives of Beauty and her daughter based on how they will affect her. In this way Robin is very much a product of her world – she disregards the needs of a woman who has shown her love and compassion because she finds her own needs more important.

I think I could have lived with a story that ended with Robin reaping the consequences of her actions. But instead, she is offered redemption and Beauty’s story is sacrificed.

It’s a shame because up until that point I was blown away by the eloquent prose, the seemingly honest portrayal of life for black and white people in the South Africa of 1976. Marais explored homosexuality, race, class and religion without being heavy handed.

But in her choice of ending, she let her own story down.