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The Blazing World

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  6,488 ratings  ·  888 reviews
A brilliant, provocative novel about an artist who, after years of being ignored by the art world, conducts an experiment: she conceals her female identity behind three male fronts.

Presented as a collection of texts, edited and introduced by a scholar years after the artist's death, the book unfolds through extracts from Burden's notebooks and conflicting accou
Hardcover, First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition, 368 pages
Published March 11th 2014 by Simon Schuster
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Claudia Putnam No. Who ISN'T under the care of a psychiatrist? And it was made clear this is one of the analyst types of psychiatrists, which it seems you can only…moreNo. Who ISN'T under the care of a psychiatrist? And it was made clear this is one of the analyst types of psychiatrists, which it seems you can only find in New York anyway, not the kind who specialized in prescribing medications and managing illness. And the whole point is that these ARE the adjectives used to describe Harry, that these are mechanisms by which people (mainly men) dismiss her. If she'd been male and had behaved the same, would people use those same adjectives? (Though I can't see what's wrong with artist. That's what she is, after all.) (less)
Deedee374 I do think that The Blazing World undermines feminism, but it's not because Harriet is an unlikeable person who goes to a psychiatrist. It's because I…moreI do think that The Blazing World undermines feminism, but it's not because Harriet is an unlikeable person who goes to a psychiatrist. It's because I found her to be such a formulaic, two-dimensional woman who defines herself completely by men. Strip away all the intellectual references and affectations Harriet cloaks herself in, and she's a little girl whose daddy didn't want her & whose husband was emotionally unavailable. I expected more subtlety than this book delivered.


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 ·  6,488 ratings  ·  888 reviews

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The problem with this book is that none of it rings true - the characterization, the narration, the atmosphere, the dialogues, the relationships, even the emotions. Everything seems so fake and overwhelmingly dramatic that at times I cajoled myself into reading on in the hopes of spotting some noticeable evidence of parody at work. But nope. Sardonic self-deprecation isn't the objective here. These people are all serious and want me to take them seriously.

Although once I persuaded myself to go
Elyse (retired from reviewing/semi hiatus) Walters
We learn a lot at the start of "The Blazing World".
Harriet Burden, also known as Harry, by old friends and a select new friends, is 62 years old.
Her husband Felix has been dead for about a year. Felix was a giant dealer to the stars in the art world.... Harriet, had been an artist wife.
When they married - she was twenty-six. Felix was forty-eight.
"It was love"
"And orgasms, many of them, and soft damp sheets"
"It was a haircut, very short"
"It was marriage. My first. His secon
May 24, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: lapl
Pedantic. Dense. Alienating. For some reason this book brings this kind of food to mind:
 photo RestauranteDiverxo-9.jpg

I can respect the studied, sophisticated, artistic intelligence it takes to create something like this, but its pretentiousness smothered the experience for me. I found myself stopping too often to wonder: "What exactly IS this?" and, "Why should I care?" the same way I would if a waiter presented m
Stephen P
Oct 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: For those who seek the crafted cry out into the darkness of the universe.
Recommended to Stephen by: Hustvedt's Previous Novels.
Shelves: favorites
I finished this book at 3:30 A.M. Pacific Coast Time and did not feel the beginnings of mourning fade till 5:30 this afternoon. I do not mean the missing of the book due to its finale. That was overwhelmed, I was overwhelmed, by the loss of someone I knew and someone I cared about a great deal.

Flayed open by the surgical skills of Siri Hustvedt, Harriet (Harry) Burden, lived the proof of human vulnerability, fear, valor, the spit and guts to reach for identity, meaning, in her life.
Feb 18, 2014 rated it it was ok
Just before I was ready to write this review, I happened across an interesting statistic: at this year’s Whitney biennial, only 32 percent of the represented artists were women (down from four years ago when for the first time ever, over half of featured artists were women.)

Siri Hustvedt’s latest book, The Blazing World, is spot-on when its main character, Harriet Burden, muses, ”I suspected that if I had come in another place, my work might have been embraced or, at least approached
(4.5) Through a collection of fragmentary sources, the novel builds a posthumous picture of Harriet (aka Harry) Burden, a larger-than-life feminist and modern artist who released her work under male pseudonyms. An engrossing puzzle as well as a bold commentary on gender identity and the divided self, both stylistically risky and fiercely intelligent.

Hustvedt completed her doctoral studies on Charles Dickens, and in some ways her sprawling narrative, with its large cast of characters, resembles a Dic
Peter Boyle
"I wanted to bite the world bloody, but I have bitten myself, made my own poor tragedy of things."

I am dazzled by the intelligence of this book. It is bursting with ideas and so intricately constructed that I couldn't help but be impressed. But as to how much I actually *enjoyed* reading it, I am not so sure.

Set in New York, it tells the story of Harriet 'Harry' Burden, an obscure artist and a woman of formidable intellect. She has lived her life in shadow of her husband, a wealthy
The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt is a difficult and complex book that in another sense is almost too simple: the rejection of women’s work by the art world, the misogyny there. But around this core swirl many ideas and philosophies. As Hustvedt writes, “Interpretation is always multiple” and there is a multiplicity of ideas being played with here. Harriet Burden, the artist in case who is being ignored by the art world, is a “blazing” woman, with “blazing worlds” inside her. And her favorite author, Margar ...more
Jun 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

In the May/June issue of Poets & Writers Claire Messud said of her novel The Woman Upstairs and its narrator:
"As a reader, I have a favorite canon of ranters that runs from Dostoevsky to Thomas Bernhard to the Philip Roth of Sabbath's Theater ... I love a ranter ... And the girls have not been ranting."
Well, Hustvedt's Harriet, aka Harry, is, like Messud's Nora, a ranter and for similar reasons that boil down -- and Harry does boil -- to her wanting to be heard. She is an exuberant, energetic 'older' woman,
Sep 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites

Wonderful Novel about a Larger than Life Woman Artist who Becomes Famous after Death

This was one of my favorite books that I read in 2015.

I was going to give it four stars, but the ending elevated it to five stars.

It's certainly a feminist novel, but not a feminist comic book. The book, like its title, is blazing with life. The characters and the story are bursting with vitality (and irony and tongue-in-c
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I had to think about this book for a while before writing a review. The trouble I'm having is with the main character, Harriet (Harry) Burden. The basic story is that this aging female artist claims to have used three male artists with various types to prove to the art world that they respond differently to women. The story is told posthumously, through written and transcribed interviews with people in Harry's life, art reviews, journal articles (sometimes written by Harry herself in other names ...more
A very clever book about the art world, feminism, philosophy and neuroscience. The core story is about an artist, a rich widow who wants to prove that the artistic establishment discriminates against women, and particularly older women, and devises a scheme to exhibit her work presented as the work of younger males.

The book presents itself as an academic treatise, a mixture of interviews, the artist's notebooks and the accounts of her friends, family and various other players. The notebooks in
Mar 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book set my mind ablaze for the two weeks I was reading it.

It was certainly one of the most intelligent, poignant, life affirming, nuanced and serious books I have had the pleasure of reading.

I have always admired Hustvedt's larger-than-life brain, her multitudes of complexity, but this...this novel was such a cut above the rest, if that had seemed to be possible.

The final 'testimony' had me in nothing but tears, wrestling with both grief and a lust for l
Mar 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Identity, gender, perception, self-deception…
Siri Hustvedt is known as a writer for intellectuals. Her novels usually drill very deep into the human soul, they are full of scientific, philosophical and literary references and her stories are embedded in ingenious plots with continuous changes in perspective and time. I liked most of her previous novels, and What I Loved and especially The Shaking Woman, or A History of My Nerves are among the best that have been published in the last decades. But with this book, "The
For quite some years I have had a short list of favorite authors comprised of only three: Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, and Barbara Kingsolver. Yes, they are all female and I love each one for different reasons that are hard to articulate. I have read every single novel written by my top three so one of these days I am going to make a sub list of the rest of the female authors I love. Siri Hustvedt will be on it.

She has published six novels, of which I have read three: What I Loved, The
B the BookAddict
Mar 08, 2014 marked it as abandoned
Recommends it for: I wouldn't recommend this book.
I rarely get this far into a novel and then abandon it but believe me, it was a case of self-preservation. Hustvedt's latest book was infecting my mood and my every day. I have also rarely disliked a character as much as I disliked Harriet. She was just one big pot of roiling, churning resentment. And she just would not SHUT UP. She went on and on and on about how overlooked her art was, about what a clever trick she was playing on the art world. She was quite disdainful of her choice of the art ...more
Julie Ehlers
Feb 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I think about perception a lot these days. This is partly because I've been learning about Buddhism for a few years now, and one of its main tenets is, essentially, "Try to see things as they are without laying a bunch of your own shit on top of everything" (said in the most compassionate, nonjudgmental way possible, of course). When you pay attention to this, it's amazing to realize how rarely we think about anything without creating our own little story about it. It's what we do.

switterbug (Betsey)
Mar 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Harriet "Harry" Burden was an obscurely known artist for much of her life, and also a wife, mother, and scholar. She was criticized for her small architectural works that consisted of too much busyness--cluttered with figures and text that didn't fit into any schema. Her husband, Felix Lord, was an influential, successful art collector, but who couldn't help his wife for alleged fear of nepotism. After Felix died, Harriet came back with a vengeance, and under three male artist's pseudonyms (arti ...more
Jan 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"I am Odysseus, but I have been Penelope."

I loved The Blazing World. But I think I loved it even more because I read it at the right time. In a way it was the culmination of a year's reading. You see, Goodreads tells me that I added this book on 1 January 2014. Hustvedt's book only actually came out in March however, and I got my copy in July as a birthday present. Then it waited on the shelves for another five months.

Meanwhile, I read. 2014 has been hauled as The Year of Reading Women, in which
Nov 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014-reads
Wow. Need a few hours to think about my response.
A day later some lingering responses, because I'm daunted by the number of well-written reviews already here on Goodreads::
I probably felt more comfortable in this novel than I did reading Kushner's Flamethrowers (also about the New York art scene) because I recognized many of Hustvedt's scholarly references if only by name. I had to think that Harriet's project of using three male artists as covers was bound to fail - to cause pain, misun
Jun 17, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Ahhhh, Booker Long list what are you doing to me. This book required a battle of will power to finish and particularly the final few pages. I didn't outright hate it, in fact during the first half I thought actually this might not be too bad. I was prepared to take the journey, passing over the multitudinous arcane footnotes, and philosophical digressions, confident the story of this artist and her struggles would be revealed in good time. However as I approached the last 100 pages it started to ...more
May 17, 2014 rated it it was ok
While the premise of the book intrigued me, I found the style quite off-putting. The deluge of footnotes, referencing both fictional and actual citations, coupled with the hopscotch narrative structure, made this novel a chore to read. The last chapter, during which Clemmy waxed poetic about cleansing lavender chakras, was especially tortuous. I feel as if this novel is an "emperor has no clothes" example. By not adoring the novel, one brands oneself as incapable of understanding the author's bl ...more
A book as intensely thoughtful and philosophical as this one can be dismissed with the oft-dreaded terms "novel of ideas" or "a writer's novel". And when I initially started it, my brain—drunk on the World Cup and addled by Twitter—resisted. But once I found the time and mental space to move through this book, I couldn't stop, and by the time I got to the end I was deeply moved. In the fierce, imaginative, and razor-sharp protagonist, Harriet "Harry" Burden (and talk about that name!) Hustvedt h ...more
I've looked at some very negative reviews of this book, and they seem to fall into two categories: those who are disappointed that the book is not some simple-minded "feminist" parable and those who are angry that the book is erudite.

I'm here to tell you, those two qualities are the best things about the book. What I would not give to have more books that are erudite, complicated, smart about complex things, that try for the truth, that see more than they went in with, whose premises are not th
Mar 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: contemporary, am, fiction, art
Intricate, engrossing, intellectually challenging read. Hustvedt creates story rich in philosophical, literary details. Her characters are alive on pages. It is not a quick read but so rewarding. Highly recommended!
Apr 02, 2014 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
My wife is currently reading this and just flipped over to me in bed saying: "you should read this, you'd like it - it has citations in it. And they are to made-up authors"...
Laurie Neighbors
Jul 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Oh, if you hated Messud's Nora, you will really hate Hustvedt's Harriet. And that's such a loss for you. Get out more, take some risks, find out what it means to be dismissed, to be unfairly critiqued, to be seen as a type instead of an individual. Get angry. Get even. Get lost. Find your way back again.

A perfect novel. Messy and bold and beautiful. It hit me right in my ample, soft, 49-year-old, feminist gut.

Mar 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Some years ago I convinced a male book club buddy to try out Siri Hustvedt, whom I adore. He trustingly went out and bought The Sorrows of an American and What I Loved. Not only did he not like them, he called them melodramatic soap operas. I choked on my wine. It's one thing not to admire them, but to categorize them as soap operas? And this from a man who loved The Unbearable Lighness of Being. Well, I didn't bother to mention gender bias, nor offer to loan him my copy of Summer Without Men. I ...more
Jonathan Pool
Jun 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-lit
I confess there were times when I found Harry’s intensity about her pseudonymous project rather exhausting....she reported on her voluminous reading.. (234)
So says one of the characters in The Blazing World!!

Siri Hustvedt’s writing style does not make for an easy, relaxing read. The breadth of allusion throughout the book, covering literary, philosophical and artistic references, is impressive and intimidating.
I respect this writing ambition immensely and I thought this was an ex
Jennifer Ochoa
Apr 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014, read-kept, favorites
Loved, loved, loved it. This is the kind of book I live for. Intellectual, richly layered. . .and layered, and layered. . . For example, Hustvedt is Hess, writing about Burden who is Brickman, both referring to their real selves in the text. This work = mind blown. If I didn't have so many books in my queue, I'd start reading it again pronto.

The novel has a fragmented documentary-style narrative that enables changing perspectives and varied voices. Like art, the story relies on the perceptions
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Hustvedt was born in Northfield, Minnesota. Her father Lloyd Hustvedt was a professor of Scandinavian literature, and her mother Ester Vegan emigrated from Norway at the age of thirty. She holds a B.A. in history from St. Olaf College and a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University; her thesis on Charles Dickens was entitled Figures of Dust: A Reading of Our Mutual Friend.

Hustvedt has
“We project our feelings onto other people, but there is always a dynamic that creates those inventions. The fantasies are made between people, and the ideas about those people live inside us ... And, even after they die, they are still there. I am made of the dead.” 6 likes
“My mother said the bizarre name Raccoona had surely been inspired, at least on a subliminal level, by the masks raccoons don't wear but simply have - the ones given them by nature..... [S]he pointed out that Le Guin had suspected all along that Raccoona and Tiptree were two authors that came from the same source, but in a letter to Alice she wrote that she preferred Tiptree to Raccoona: 'Raccoona, I think, has less control, thus less wit and power.'

Le Guin, Mother said, had understood something deep. 'When you take on a male persona, something happens.'

When I asked her what that was, she sat back in her chair, waved her arm, and smiled. 'You get to be the father.”
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