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Infrared Paperback – 19 Jul 2012


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Product details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press / Atlantic Monthly Press (19 July 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080212027X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802120274
  • Product Dimensions: 21.2 x 14.1 x 2.2 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,468,342 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

--A "Globe and Mail" Top 100 Book of the Year"Huston shows her mastery of complicated structure, wide culural knowledge, and brilliant, assured portraiture."--"The Globe and Mail""There is something eminently subversive in Nancy Huston's latest novel. A forty-five-year-old woman dares to talk about her sexuality, her immense desire for men. But even more, "Infrared" is a staggering expression of the power of art as salvation."--"Voir" (Canada)"Compelling . . . A finely written examination of sexual politics and the importance of emotional triage."--"Quill & Quire""Poetic . . . A ruminative and sensual read."--Zoe Whittall, " National Post" (Canada)"An intense and sensual novel"--"France Soir""Nancy Huston is in top form writing about individual and collective memories, and she knows better than most how to dramatize family destinies."--"Le Monde des Livres""Infrared, written in lyrical slivers and voluptuous prose is an engaging work."--"Canberra Times" (Australia)

About the Author

Nancy Huston is the author of twelve novels, including Plainsong, which won the Governor General's Award for Fiction in French; Slow Emergencies, winner of the Prix L' and the Prix Louis-Hemon; The Mark of An Angel, awarded the Grand Prix des Lectrices de Elle; and Fault Lines, winner of the Prix Femina and a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year. Visit her website at nancyhuston.ca

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 44 reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Film in the Revealing Bath 10 May 2012
By Roger Brunyate - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Rena Greenblatt, the fortyish protagonist of Nancy Huston's sensual and disturbing new novel, spends much of the book in mental dialogue with a special friend whom she names Subra. It is not hard to see that this is a backwards homage to Diane Arbus (1923-71), the American photographer of people on the fringes of everyday society. For Rena too is a photographer, whose shows include "Whore Sons and Daughters," "N[o]us," and "Misteries." Their subjects reveal how Rena's mind works, which is the main interest in the book. The first show is just as it says, the families of sex workers. The second is a series of sleeping nudes (the French title is a pun between "nudes" and "ourselves"), "bodies of all ages, colours and sexes, obese and scrawny, smooth and wrinkly, hairless and hirsute [...] every one of them beautiful." The third shows "close-ups of young men's faces twisted with hatred. Moving in... closer and closer [...] passing through layer after layer of memory all the way to childhood. It's overwhelming when that starts to show up in the revealing bath."

The revealing bath image might also serve as a description of Huston's narrative method. The frame is Rena's week-long holiday with her aging father and stepmother in Florence and Tuscany. Rena (or Huston herself) has a magnificent eye, and her encounters with artworks, famous or otherwise, sent me repeatedly to Google Images to check her observations for myself. But the main substance of the book lies in the reflections they trigger and layers of memory that are gradually peeled back. José Saramago does something similar in his MANUAL OF PAINTING AND CALLIGRAPHY; it is also the basic principle of WG Sebald's novels, though neither has Huston's sensuality. However, while Huston's observations are as rich as those of either author, her technique soon becomes excessively transparent. Before long, the ostensible story virtually disappears, as Rena darts back in time at the slightest pretext -- a fleeting thought followed by "Tell me, says Subra," or linkages so blatant as to be almost absurd: "Again the toilet flushes and a heavy-built man comes out of the bathroom, zipping up his fly. Rena thinks of all the flies she has undone in the course of her long love life...".

Rena may pay homage to Diane Arbus by reversing her name as Subra, but the surname of the other huge influence on Huston's writing is irreversible: Anaïs Nin. I don't think I have every read a book in which a woman is so frank about sex; Rena's current project is to photograph the faces of her lovers in infrared as they climax. Her verbal descriptions too are explicit, sensual, and above all joyous. In addition to her many lovers, Rena has had four husbands, all Francophone, all of other races (Haitian, Cambodian, Senegalese, and Algerian), and all loved passionately at least for a while. But as the layers of memory peel away, we become aware of events in Rena's childhood that are more than titillatingly precocious but clearly traumatic; the book darkens considerably as it goes on. Meanwhile, the 2005 race riots are breaking out in the Paris suburb where Rena lives, a distant outcome of the anger recorded in her "Misteries." Nancy Huston (who wrote the book originally in French, then made her own translation), brings the threads together into a climax of sorts, but leaves most of them untied. However, this is not a novel you read for the story, but for the vision of its central character, and that really is extraordinary.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Complex, brilliant and passionate. 1 Sep 2012
By Pasiphae - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Any reader familiar with Fault Lines should expect a challenging, intelligent and transgressive story, and you are going to get one, here. The plot is simple: a photographer named Rena takes her elderly father and stepmother on a trip to Italy, and while she's there, faces difficult truths about her personal history.

Sharp, brittle, beautiful, addicted to being desirable, Rena is a fascinating creation. She is probably one of the most unreliable narrators ever written, but has a built-in correction device, an imaginary friend or alter-ego named Subra who listens to Rena's stories, nudging her into telling the small truths (she is not legally married, certain events didn't happen just exactly how or where she likes to say they happened) and then into larger truths that are so shocking as to verge on melodrama. Because of Huston's skill as a writer, the reader stays invested through all of Rena's most difficult revelations, but this is a brutally explicit story.

Italy is beautifully presented, the loveliness of the country, the food, the art, the history. But right alongside all the loveliness is that other part of travel in Italy; the fatigue, indecision, the narrowness of Florentine sidewalks, traffic noise, bad breakfasts. Rena's impatience with her father and stepmother is hilarious in a very mean-spirited way, but the vacation is only a backdrop for an internal story that is ferocious and awful and skillfully revealed. The gallows humor is just there to give the reader small times of respite before Rena reveals another episode in her childhood of horrors.

It is difficult to live inside the mind of a fractured woman who has accepted all blame for every violence done to her, and elevated that violence to the level of worship. Rena has actually fetishized the aspects of manhood that have most harmed her. But if you want to sink your teeth into something that will bite you right back, you will love this book.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Simon says read this book 13 Sep 2012
By mateo52 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It doesn't take very long to discover Canadian émigré Rena Greenblatt (I believe. Don't recall last name being attributed but I think she would follow her mother's lead, professionally), an ostensibly independent spirited photographer on holiday in Florence, Italy with her aging father Simon and her stepmother Ingrid, has all of the traits that one might expect in a modern day version of the mythic and mystic classical Greek sirens or somewhat less poetically, might be just a present day cougar with a sense of escalating trepidation regarding how much longer she will remain physically alluring enough to attract the higher profile youthful game.

At age 45, she has been married three times to men of color and is currently in a relationship with another, a reporter at the same news outlet she is contracted with, another love or arguably, another object of obsession only slightly older than the eldest of her two sons. As the three vacationers explore the art, architecture and ambiance of the historical city and the surrounding environs, there is a sense of acquiescence to obligation rather than joy emanating from Rena and her guests seem equally as enthused about their travels. Meanwhile, social unrest unfolding near her home in Paris may have long term implications to her professional and personal paths dependent on the decisions she makes regarding continuation of their excursion.

Rena intimates she has an insatiable taste for eroticism and is vividly aware of her seductive powers over men and at first glance it is not difficult to understand or visualize those talents. Lucidly described, sensually and intelligently written, with a seeming absence of inhibitions she is, well, let's say it, scintillating and titillating. Rena engages in interludes of erotic fantasy about potential conquests and entertains remembrances of past affairs that cast her as immensely desirable even though she might not be as consistently likeable. Yet, as layer after layer is peeled away as she engages in self-dialogue with her psychologically created alter-ego, the more grounded Subra (Rena's conscious homage to role model photographer Diane Arbus), interacts with her success challenged father and marginalizes her less sophisticated stepmother, it becomes equally as easy to see only a scintilla of what she projects externally is truly predicated on the positive aspects of her life experiences.

The Canon 35mm camera serves in a multiplicity of palliative utilities for her. It is first and foremost her protective armor when confronted with the necessity of meaningful interaction with others. She has chosen to work almost exclusively with infrared film (no artless digitized imaging for her) and the camera is her periscope into the core of her corporeal subjects many of whom also had the pleasure of being recent sexual partners. Behind the lens, she is self-secure and detached. It is an escape from introspection and facilitates continuation of her compartmentalized approach to life while contradictorily functioning as a fulfillment device for much of the emptiness she has refused to - or found herself incapable of - confronting until the onset of this family excursion.

Over the course of the novel Author Nancy Huston brings an engrossing, penetrative focus on family dynamics and dysfunction, behavior patterns and the distinct possibility failure to reconcile feelings about past traumas will have ongoing and lasting influence on future actions/interactions. Huston deftly conveys the attributes of strength of character and conviction that can be found in the least suspected, and the veneer of the same that can be rapidly wear away in those with the most outwardly projected bravado.

While I was thoroughly entertained by Ms. Huston's prose and articulation I can also see how some readers who are not interested in a wealth of descriptions of renaissance era art and architecture or, pick up the book in anticipation of a story with a preponderance of erotica could be disappointed.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Renal Failure 21 Dec 2012
By C. CRADDOCK - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Rena Greenblatt is shepherding her septuagenarian father Simon and stepmother Ingrid through a vacation in Florence, Italy, but grows increasingly frustrated that they aren't appreciating the masterpieces of the Renaissance as much as she thinks they should. Meanwhile, her job as a photojournalist and her lover/colleague Aziz are calling her back to Paris. Paris is burning and they demand that she come back at once to document the conflagration.

Rena Greenblatt is a name that only a Gastroenterologist could love, and I also found it difficult to warm up to her. Though I titled my review 'renal failure' by no means was that meant to imply that the book was a failure. Rather, I meant that the protagonist, Rena, was failing to enjoy her vacation and also failing to just let her father and stepmother be themselves. She was a total snob, and it was shackling her to her own, self made, ring of hell, one that Dante never conceived of. I kept waiting for her to have some kind of epiphany.

That being said, I did enjoy the book, in spite, or perhaps because, Rena was such a pretentious snob. What was that line in T.S. Eliot's poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"?

"In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo"?

Much of Infrared took place in that room, except the room was an interior monologue in Rena's head, where she also had an imaginary friend that she talked to, one that never tired of hearing her tell the same stories over and over again, Subra. The friend, a sister she'd always longed for, appeared in a photo by Diane Arbus. She was named Subra because that is Arbus spelled backwards. There were also sidebars to discuss the work of Araki, his Lucky Hole photographs, and the Sentimental Journey series. This led to revelations that her camera, a Canon, was a homophone for Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. Perhaps the Japanese company had even named it that on purpose. At one point, she invokes not only the name of Arbus, but also Plath and Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva. All three women had apparently committed suicide. Oh no. I can see where this is going. Or maybe not. Don't want to spoil the ending.

I admit that I hadn't heard of Tsvetaeva and had to look it up. So typical of Rena Greenblatt's snobbery (or is it author Nancy Huston's) that she name drops a rather obscure poet expecting you to know it. She also showed off her command of foreign languages, much to my chagrin. Even though I hadn't heard of Tsvetaeva I didn't really mind the author's or protagonist's indulgences. Hey, thanks for pulling my coat to this poetess, she looks worthy of further study.

All in all I enjoyed this excursion through Italy almost as much as Simon Greenblatt and Ingrid did, in spite of Rena's frustration. There were also a lot of dark and passionate memories stirred up that led to some rather disturbing revelations. Indeed, there are so many skeletons in Rena's closet that I'm surprised she has room to hang her coat there.

Ciao, Florence.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A sensual journey through middle age. 7 Sep 2012
By DanD - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Nancy Houston's INFRARED focuses on middle-aged photographer Rena Greenblatt. Rena is on a European tour with her absent-minded father and naive stepmother. Rena specializes in infrared photography, a technique that distorts the captured image, unveiling secrets unable to be seen by the naked eye. On her trip, Rena will turn her lens upon herself, examining her unhappy childhood and her addiction to male lust.

INFRARED isn't an erotic novel, per say. Perhaps the best analogy is if Hemingway had infused more sex into his work. It's still not for the prude or squeamish; although to be honest, at times the novel could use MORE sex. It gets bogged down in details at times, specifically flashbacks. And yet there's something beautiful and elegant about Houston's prose style, shifting seamlessly from third- to first-person POV (doing so in a manner that seems genuine and natural, as opposed to contrived). INFRARED takes some patience to get through, but it's certainly worth the effort.
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