What I Loved, by Siri Hustvedt

Leo, an art historian, and Bill, an artist, are close friends. They and their wives spend a lot of time in each other's company, and their sons, born at the same time, grow up as best friends. This book narrated by Leo, tells of how the relationships between them change, and how they cope with the rather unpleasant events that unfold in the latter half of the book.

The above summary is a bit vague because I made the mistake of reading the back cover of the book before listening to it and it gave away a rather significant bit of the plot which didn't occur until some hours in, and that meant I spent the whole time waiting for it to happen.

I read this book because it was well reviewed in the Guardian. The reviewer said the book starts off slowly but to bear with it because every detail which at first seems insignificant turns out to be part of an overall design. Well, it certainly started off slowly, and there did seem to be an awful lot of detail. A lot of the book is spent with Leo describing Bill's work - either individual paintings or projects. And although there were some ways in which themes of the artwork reflected aspects of the story, in most cases they must have been absent, or gone over my head.

In fact I think the Guardian review spoiled it too, because I was trying to memorise details of the descriptions, so that I could work out how they related to the subsequent plot. And while things did get going in the second half of the book, with a rather disturbing story, the plot was really secondary to the descriptive powers of the writer.

What was good about the book was the overall feel of it: the characters especially were very well done: Bill, Violet, Mr. Bob, Laslo, Mark etc. were all brought to life, all having their part in the story but all with traits that made them seem like real people, rather than characters playing a part in a story. The book should be read as a history of Leo's life, which happened to have included a rather unsettling series of events. It shouldn't be read as a "story", which is sort of what I'd been expecting.

Having said that, good though it was, I think it was a bit too long (about 16 hours), and although I quite enjoyed listening to it, I was pleased when I got to the end.

Completed : 07-May-2006 (audiobook)

[nickoh] [2006 books] [books homepage]