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That summer could have been without us as well

January 12, 2014 10 comments

The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt 2011 French title : Un été sans les hommes.

Hustvedt_EteWhat does an avid reader do when two people whose opinion she respects have an opposite vision of a book written by a writer she likes? She reads the book herself to make up her mind. This is how I came to The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt. Caroline didn’t like it. Someone else loved it. So what’s the verdict? I have to admit that like Caroline, I wonder what happened to Siri Hustvedt.

In this novel, Mia, 50ish, spends the summer in her hometown in Minnesota. Her husband has asked for a Pause in their marriage after 30 years together and she ended up in a psychiatric hospital. For her husband, the Pause has the form of a French young woman (talk about cliché) and for her it means recovering from a major nervous breakdown. So Mia is there, near her mother, connecting with a young neighbour, teaching poetry to a group of teenagers and spending time with old ladies. Ah, yes, because Mia is a Poet while her husband is a scientist. Talk about cliché again.

With a bit of imagination and a good dose of humour, it could be a good scenario but the way it is written kills everything. I didn’t believe in any of the characters and frankly, I didn’t feel any empathy for Mia. Her constant references to poets or philosophers irritated me. I’m not well-read in poetry and philosophy and the few poets I know are almost all French. So I didn’t get the references and I felt left behind. I hate it when writers show off their culture and leave readers behind. If they use other writers for their story, it needs to be subtle or at least bring some depth to the book. Here, none of this happened. I have to give some credit to French publishers: the silliness of the cover captures well the silliness of the novel.

I’m not a very patient person and I couldn’t finish it. So yes, Caroline, you’re right, this book is utterly disappointing. If you’ve never read Siri Hustvedt, I suggest you start with The Enchantment of Lily Dahl and stay away from this one.

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