Friday, 24 June 2011

The Summer without Men

I'm a sucker for any book that says 'By turns, funny, moving and erudite, playfully reminding us of a contemporary Jane Austen' on the cover. Does Siri Husvedt's writing remind us of a contemporary Jane Austen? I'd say not. Austen's genius was very rare. Did I like this book? Well yes, with some reservations.

It's a depressingly familiar story. Husband leaves ageing wife for younger colleague. Wife goes briefly crazy and then takes herself off for the summer to teach poetry to teenagers and visit her elderly mother. Mia engages with the adolescent girls she teaches, her mother's sparky elderly friends and a young woman with a family and troublesome husband who live next door.

There are lots of literary diversions - discourses on the nature of mental illness, directly addressing the reader a la Charlotte Bronte and experiments with the narrative. I really liked the creative writing class and I thought the novel was excellent on newly teenage girls and the bullying, competitiveness and vulnerability of that age group.

Three contemporary novels in a row. Now I really am ready to go back to my beloved vintage literature.


Darlene said...

It makes me wonder about novels being written today and how many will be considered 'vintage reads' one hundred years from now?

Enjoy getting back to what you love best!

Samantha said...

I have been to-ing and fro-ing about whether to read this novel. I had trouble reading her last novel What I Loved and eventually didn't finish it. The premise of this novel sounds so appealing but references to Austen make me nervous!

mary said...

Nothing puts me off a book more than to have it compared to Jane Austen. How dare they, the cheek!

Steph said...

I really enjoyed this novel a lot, but I would not compare it to Jane Austen in any respect, really. There was much to admire about this book, but I don't think I would describe it as "playful"... What a weird blurb (and misleading!) blurb for this book!

Mae said...

I'm feeling like that at the moment. Too many contemporary reads.

I think I'll save this for much later. I'm still slightly Hustvedt out from 'What I Loved'.

Bellezza said...

I'm with you; I can only stand so much contemporary literature before racing back to my classics.

GirlsWannaRead said...

Finding contemporary novels is really "hit or miss" with me. When I do find one I'm relieved to know that there are good ones out there. When I find a dud I'm eager to run back to the classics like you!

Penny said...

I'm with Mary! How dare they! JA stands alone! I do read some modern novels and enjoy many of them, but every time I reread JA, I enjoy her novels as if they were new to me. You can't say that about many modern novels, I don't think.
I'll give this one a miss, though the blurb might have tempted me without your warning! Thanks! :o)

Grad said...

This book was on my "maybe" list, until I finally realized I would probably never read it. But maybe I should put it back. I am like you in that I prefer vintage reads, but do like to keep up with contemporary fiction. So little time!

Dorothy W. said...

I think I'd like to give this book a try. I didn't get on with the first Husvedt book I read, but I've heard so many good things about her, that it seems worth trying again.

Joanne said...

Nicola, could you delete my previous comment, I've accidentally put my email address for name! Thank you

Sunday Taylor said...

Always in the mood for a classic novel. Just saw some beautiful editions of Hemingway and Virginia Woolf at a lovely small book store in New York. I'm definitely in the mood for Fitzgerald and Hemingway, and books about them as well, after seeing Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris."

Anonymous said...

I have heard wonderful things about Siri Husvedt's writing, but I do often wonder if recommendations that compare contemporary authors to Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte end up doing more harm than good. Of course, I am likely to want to read the book if the cover says so, which I guess shows it is a good selling technique. But when it comes to high expectations, I feel the novels may often proof disappointing exactly because of the comparisons made.

Vintage Reading said...

Darlene - yes, I think 50 years is a good test of time!

Samantha, I don't suppose the author is responsible for the quote on the cover - the novel had it's moments but incomparable with Austen in my opinion.

Mary, yup - the Austen industry rolls on!

Steph, I agree. Playful it is not. Quite depressing really - why on earth did she take her husband back at the end??!

Mae, yes, I think these novels need to stand the test of time before allusions to Austen are made on the cover.

Bellezza, we were born in the wrong century!

girlswannaread - I think I'm through with contemporary for a while!

Penny - just the word Austen on the cover seems to work magic - after, all I fell for it!!

Grad, it's certainly readable, with some interesting bits. Not really my cup of tea, though!

Dorothy, the poetry classes in the novel were good. I just don't feel Hustvedt is a writer that speaks to me, based on this novel. If you do read it I would be interested in your review.

Joanne. Deleted! By the way, I've been having problems trying to post a comment on your blog - it doesn't like me!!

Sunday, I went through a F Scott Fitzgerald phase in my early twenties and read every short story he'd written and all the novels. I still think The Great Gatsby is one of the finest novels ever written and I'd like to re-read Tender is the Night. I will look out of your posts on these writers.

Iris, I suppose it's the publishers rather than the author, but I'm getting fed up with the whole Austen industry - just mentioning the name in a book or film title seems to add a credibilty that the novel/film/TV series can't live up to.

Anonymous said...

Despite your reservations - which I'm sure are well-founded - I really want to read Hustvedt because I haven't read her at all yet.