I had the very great pleasure of being introduced to the author, Siri Hustvedt, after being invited to be in the audience of Radio 4’sBookclub. Rather than discuss her latest release, the focus was on her earlier novel, What I Loved, the result of a six-year writing struggle to find the right structure for a story that demanded to be told. Asked why it took so long, Siri answered very humbly that she knew it was wrong. I found it extremely inspirational – and a great comfort – to learn that an experienced author can have complete confidence in her ideas but battle with the execution. Michael Cunningham wrote in The Hours that the story that ends up on the page is never as good as the one in your head. Siri had the patience to ensure that hers was. I am not sure that the week that it took me to read the novel truly did it justice, but for that week I was completely immersed in the world of Leo, a New York Art Lecturer and sometime critic, friend, husband, father – and I did not want to leave the safety of his loft apartment. It is a book that refuses to be pigeon-holed into a single genre. The structure is triumphant – starting life as a love story cum family saga, spanning twenty five years, the book gradually gathers pace, offering tragedy and ultimately a thriller-style chase with nightmarish undertones. The final phase of the book would not have been nearly so gripping if we didn’t already care deeply about the characters and the relationships between them. It is one of those books that, on reaching the end, you immediately turn to the first chapter and start again, this time with greater understanding. I feel that there is much to learn from it as a writer, but please tune into Bookclub because Siri was absolutely delightful.
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