These days, it is not very often that I come across a book that simply sweeps me off my feet, that makes me want to read it slowly and carefully, underling sentences and writing comments on the margins. Recently, I really enjoyed the The Glass Castle, a memoir which I bought at the airport in São Paulo and read the whole thing in Portuguese on the plane to London, from the American journalist Jeannette Walls (in this YouTube clip her idiosyncratic and often irritatingly free-spirited mother appears, while she happily summarises her story to the camera like an E! presenter. I found that annoying.)
But for the past 2 weeks I've been completely engrossed in Siri Hustvedt's novel What I Loved. It is beautifully written in a sort of careful, elaborate narrative that forces you to decelarate and enjoy the language and the comprehensive pondering of the characters' emotional behaviours. Until I finished the novel today and started combing the internet for people's impressions and opinions, I was also amazed at Hustvedt's imaginary capacity to create such a complex plot (the book explores 25 years of two New York 'art' couples), but then I found a couple of articles that mentioned the similarity of several sections of the book to Hustvedt and her husband Paul Auster's lives, and then my awe faded a little. Apparently, both authors are well-known in the literary world for "dressing" facts from their own lives, as a journalist wrote, and incorporate them into their work.
That said, knowing this doesn't affect my infatuation with this book. In this little audio clip, she says that if you look at people sitting around the table of a dinner party, you could bet that every single one has stories about love and loss, and how both have been largely influential on how those people turned out. She says "I'm interested in why people become what they become. When my daughter was 3, I was giving her a bath, and she asked me: 'Mom, when I grow up, will I still be Sophie?' That was a very dramatic question about human life, and this novel is about those ideas, the role of culture in shaping people's character."
I just loved that. In my own troubled relationship with my family and friends, I've often tried to put breaks on my own judgement of them and simply tried to understand what was behind their acts and behaviour. It made things easier, at least for me, and opened space for forgiveness. Reading this novel and hearing that comment clarified a lot what I have - often unconsciously - tried to do, and shone a light into a practice that needs to be exercised by anyone who wants to be some kind of writer/artist.
I'm looking forward to read her other novels.