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What I Loved Hardcover – 20 Jan 2003

3.9 out of 5 stars 68 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 370 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre; First Edition edition (20 Jan. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034068237X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340682371
  • Product Dimensions: 14.5 x 22.2 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 961,428 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

What I Loved is a deeply touching elegiac novel that mourns for the New York artistic life, which was of a time but now has gone--by extension, it is about all losses swept away by mischance and time. Half-blind and alone, Leo tells us of marriage and friendship, and makes the sheer fragility of what seemed forever not only his subject, but perhaps the only subject worth considering. Scholars Leo and his wife Erica admire, and befriend, artist Bill and his first and second wives--their respective sons Matthew and Mark grow up together until the first of a series of tragedies strikes. And things get gradually worse from then on, both because terrible things happen and because people do not get over them.

Part of the strength of this impressive novel is its emotional intensity and part is the context in which those emotions exist; these are smart and talented people, even the children, and we luxuriate, even when things are at their worst, in the sheer intelligence they bring to bear on their situations. It is also impressive that, for Hustvedt, intelligence is an end in itself rather than something that prevents tragedy or makes it more bearable. This is a powerful book because everything Leo knows makes him ever more the victim of exquisite pain. --Roz Kaveney

Review

What I Loved restored my faith in novels featuring artistic endeavour, which too often fall prey to pretentiousness. Her central characters are undoubtedly middle-class creatures with cerebral concerns but their lives encompass real suffering too, which makes them more accessible ... This is an extraordinarily dense novel, with as much or as little scholasticism as the reader chooses to find. The symbolic motifs of childhood, from the story of Hansel and Gretel to the creation of imaginary companions, jostle with darker myths in the lives of these people; but there are also at least two fine love stories and many acts of kindness between friends. They do not deserve the tragedy which befalls them, but their very decency in the face of it has dignity and magnificence. (Image magazine)

The New York that oozes from her pages is dazzling, sexy, darkly lit. But this is also a wide, sensuous novel - clever, sinister, yet attractively real. It lives and breathes and never apologises for itself ... I can't remember the last time I finished a novel and truly believed I'd absorbed the taste and span of an artist's career as well as the pains and joys of 30 years of his sexual and emotional life, but this one convinced me I had. (Julie Myerson, Guardian)

Hustvedt writes with chilling intensity, and with an intimate knowledge of New York ... eerie and atmospheric (Kate Chisholm, Daily Telegraph)

Hustvedt writes with chilling intensity, and with an intimate knowledge of New York. (Kate Chisholm, Telegraph)

A gripping intellectual read (Hugo Barnacle, New Statesman)

[Her] characters [are] so lovingly created, who endure such loss and heartbreak, that they'll have you weeping on to the pages while you try to work out what connects Charcot's hysterics to modern-day SoHo. (Alice Fisher, Time Out)

A dark, sexually charged and complex novel ... Rich in detail and visual imagery, this is a book to slowly savour and unravel. (Eve magazine)

You feel that Hustvedt can't help but use words with style and verve. The New York that oozes from her pages is dazzling, sexy, darkly lit. But this is also a big, wide, sensuous novel-clever, sinister, yet attractively real. It lives and breathes and never apologises for itself...It's a genuinely disturbing urban thriller - there's violence, duplicity, murder and erotica - but it's also satisfyingly weighed down with the heft of marital and parental relationships and, maybe most importantly, with a profound and intelligent dialogue about love. Most impressively of all perhaps, Hustvedt takes us deeply and convincingly into the psyches of all these people, not only exploring what makes them tick emotionally (plenty of good writers can do that) but also dissecting the very impulse that makes them into artists and thinkers (far harder and rarer). In fact she writes with astonishing daring and clarity about the artisitic spark itself, the desire to search for meaning where there seems to be none, the need to create questions, even when there can probably be no answers. As a result, the intricacies of the relationships she depicts, the fragile sexual landscapes - whether comic and wobbly or romantically sweeping - snag at your heart. The descriptions of Bill's paintings and sculptures (endless and astoundingly detailed) are done with real conviction and never for one moment seem tedious or superfluous...Hustvedt's real achievement is to push the boundaries of the novel further, by making something of such sheer, daunting and inspiring largeness. I can't remember the last time I finished a novel and truly believed I'd absorbed the taste and span of an artist's career as well as the pains and joys of 30 years of his sexual and emotional life, but this one convinced me I had. (Julie Myerson, The Guardian)

An extraordinarily dense novel, with as much or as little scholasticism as the reader chooses to find. The symbolic motifs of childhood, from the story of Hansel and Gretel to the creation of imaginary companions, jostle with darker myths in the lives of these people; but there are also at least two fine love stories and many acts of kindness between friends. They do not deserve the tragedy which befalls them, but their very decency in the face of it has dignity and magnificence. (Image magazine)

A consummately intelligent novel, highly literate but also intensely moving. It's impossible to read this superbly assured work about friendship, betrayal and love without weeping, because she manages so successfully to make you care about her characters and their disturbingly sad story. (Jackie McGlone, The Scotsman)

Defiantly complex and frequently dazzling ... a truly memorable novel ... [Siri Hustvedt] has created a conceptually exciting work that demands we think, but which still allows us room to feel.

Defiantly complex and frequently dazzling ... it teases and taxes its reader with problems of meaning and personal identity on almost every page ... With what seems like obvious enjoyment, [Hustvedt] creates an oeuvre for Bill. His range of work deepens and changes direction over time, leaving us with a real sense of the magpie tendencies of the creative mind, and exists against a convincing and often amusing rendering of the New York art scene in the 1970s and 1980s. But, like the art she describes, Hustvedt's novel also metamorphoses: into the moving story of the grief and disarray that follow a family loss; into a grippingly madcap thriller ... and into a peculiarly obsessional meditation on the nature of the boundaries between human beings and the power - or lack of power - that art and its interpretation has to mediate and elide them. The narrative throbs with the energy of repeated and refined ideas, with the tension between interior and exterior lives, with a series of mirror images and doubles that exist in an elegant symmetry, and with sudden changes in pace and subject matter that bring to it an almost shape-shifting quality ... Hustvedt's special skill (and the talent that makes this a truly memorable novel) is that we never escape the feeling that her intellectual hoops are being jumped through by real people. In that, she has pulled off a trick far more difficult than many contemporary novels admit: she has created a conceptually exciting work that demands we think, but which still allows us room to feel. (Alex Clark, Sunday Times)

Hustvedt is a serious, ambitious writer whose novels are intelligent, involving and engrossingly textured, like the highest class of thrillers. (Michael Thompson-Noel, Financial Times)

Apart from her completely riveting plot and memorable characterisation, her novel is fascinating for her insights into the mechanics of the art world and the way artists disport themselves as well as their philosophies. The cool, clean lines of her prose are a disciplined delight. Her great skill though lies in the unravelling of her charcters who react to stress and sadness in different and credible ways.
Above all, the ultimate joy of this book is the discovery of a fresh and original new talent.

(Madeleine Keane, Sunday Independent)

Hustvedt incorporates questions of aesthetics and a profound consideration of artistic imperatives into her study of two full and often dramatic lives and a deeply satisfying friendship ... addictive (Nina Caplan, Metro London)

With What I Loved, the novelist confronts the beauty and terror of an era. (Journal du dimanche)

Essential and intangible things escape from this dense, sensual and melancholy novel: passion, desire... friendship, schizophrenia, lies and treachery. (Le Figaro)

It is a great, ambitious work, bith a novel of ideas and a novel of characters, in which not a single line seems extraneous. Consummately intellectual, and exploring themes as disparate as mental illness, eating disorders, erotica, drugs, murder and modern art, it is also intensely - at times achingly - moving... expertly executed, with none of the mawkishness that tends to afflict so much contemporary writing. The first part of the book is slow-moving and richly atmospheric. (Jennifer O'Connell, Sunday Business Post)

What I Loved is a book of rare density, that ones loves unconditionally. (Elle)

What I Loved - an energetic, rich novel where ideas and theses are interwoven amongst the destinies of people who are being slowly crushed by life. (L'Express)

If her novelistic universe has grown in density and weight, her writing has not lost its truthfulness, sensitivity, her subtle perception of imaginary dimensions...the dominant feeling when one closes this book is one of great serenity. (Marie-Claire)

At the same time as dealing with cerebral considerations, Siri Hustvedt's novel is anchored in a very strong reality. (Presse Regionale)

Siri Hustvedt is a magnificent writer. (Paris Vogue)

Siri Hustvedt.., subtly expresses all the ambiguity of an emotion that is at once the origin and symptom of our personal perversities. (Les Inrockuptibles)

The narrative throbs with the energy of repeated and refined ideas, with the tension between interior and exterior lives, with a series of mirror images and doubles that exist in an elegant symmetry, and with sudden changes in pace and subject matter that bring to it an almost shape-shifting quality... [Hustvedt] has created a conceptually exciting work that demands we think, but which still allows us room to feel. (Alex Clark, Sunday Times)

Hustvedt is a consummate storyteller who is very much connected to desires and physicality, here revealing a greatly compassionate yet strictly unsentimental understanding of human relations. [She] writes with impressive lucidity. (The List, Glasgow)

A novel of such complexity and power that when you get to the end of it you feel the process of deciphering has only just begun. (Noonie Minogue, Times Literary Supplement)

After a slow but engrossing start... WHAT I LOVED becomes a page-turning psychological thriller... seductive and threatening. (Carole Morin, Scotland on Sunday)

A New York novel of real class - one of the best books of 2003... so far. (Sunday Herald)

A cool, intriguing book. (Arminta Wallace, Irish Times)

Hustvedt's unshowy prose will guide you through a maze of thought-provoking ideas (Literary Review)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
A rather surprising novel, which begins as a gentle, rather intellectual examination of the friendship between Leo (an art historian) and Bill (an artist, who works as a painter, sculptor and increasingly in mixed media), and their families, but which turns in the last third of the novel into a thriller, with Bill's extremely disturbed son Mark as one of the central figures. Hustvedt's language in the novel is beautiful, her characters compelling. I particularly admired her description of the collapse of Bill's marriage to the cool and remote Lucille, and his very happy second marriage to his former model Violet Blom, a writer on hysteria, eating disorders and cultural studies. Hustvedt also handled very well Leo's secret attraction to Violet, which runs side by side with his very real love for his wife Erica, a professor of English literature. There is much interesting discussion of culture and philosophy (I'd say you have to be of a fairly academic bent to enjoy the first half of the book, but most people who read Hustvedt would be) and Hustvedt also brings Bill's artwork wonderfully to life, particularly his paintings. Although I found the collapse of Leo's family life after a tragedy somewhat unexpected (and it might have been more interesting to have Leo's son survive - he would have been a strong contrast to Mark) Hustvedt also writes well and sensitively on grief, and how one might feel having lost a child. The second half of the book is a real page-turner, without ever becoming vulgar in any way, and with many interesting insights into child and adolescent psychology, even if the figure of Teddy Giles may seem slightly melodramatic (but then, many performance artists are!Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt, is one of the most extraordinary novels I have read for a long time. It is primarily a novel of ideas and yet has a great plot and is very gripping. It is the story of 2 couples who are part of the artistic bohemian set in Greenwich Village, they are a very close group of friends and few other people permeate into their world. This book charts the relationships between these people and their children. The novel incorporates art, the process of biography, memory and how it fluctuates, love, loss, hysteria, eating disorders and many many other issues. It is one of those rare things a book which stays with you for a long time after you have read it. I urge everyone who enjoys fine writing and thoughtful concepts to read this book it is a real treat.
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Format: Paperback
What I Loved is a beautiful, sprawling novel about love and loss. Once you get past the first hundred or so pages, that is. Divided into three parts, the first third genuinely doesn't seem to know where it's going, with interwoven flashbacks that quickly become disorientating. Persevere, though, because the good stuff is yet to come. The book as a whole reads as if Hustvedt honed her literary skills during the course of writing it - and then simply didn't bother to go back and edit part one. The worst of it is that her narrator's voice doesn't ring true at first either. This is supposedly written from the perspective of an elderly man, but Siri Hustvedt is very much female - and it shows. For the longest time there's simply no avoiding the glaring fact that it's a woman speaking here, not a man. Then the novel takes a dramatic turn, and from that point onwards she seems to get into her strides, so to speak.

The method Hustvedt uses to get your attention is hardly original, but it's powerful nonetheless. I hadn't expected to care so much, but a growing affection for the characters had crept up on me somehow and from that point on I was hooked. In short, there's never been a more deserving candidate for the phrase `flawed but interesting'. In spite of the bumpy start there's some magnificent stuff here. This is (partly) a book about the outskirts of the New York art scene, and her lengthy descriptions of one artist's works are rendered stunningly well. Even potentially dry academic subjects are given life and vigour by Hustvedt's pen. Oddly enough, when the book moves into horror film territory, she really excels at the gory stuff - everything is fleshy and real, almost sickeningly so.
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By S Riaz HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 1 July 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
This novel sees Professor Leo Hertzberg, art historian, look back over twenty five years of his life and his relationship with his close friend, artist, Bill Wechsler. The book is set within New York's art scene and the characters are all involved in some form or other - Leo's wife Erica is an English professor, Bill an artist, his first wife, Lucille, a poet, and his second wife, Violet, a historian. In this academic world, Leo befriends Bill and they remain close friends all their lives. Bill and Lucille move into an apartment above Leo and Erica's and, when the two couples have sons literally months apart, it cements the relationships. Even when Bill and Lucille divorce and he remarries, the ties are still strong and the boys more like cousins than friends. Tragedy strikes when one of the boys dies and is further compounded when the remaining child becomes troubled as he grows up - lying, becoming involved with drugs and with controversial artist Teddy Giles.

I found this book extremely moving as a study of friendship, relationships, family and grief. The novel moves towards it's conclusion slowly, almost imperceptibly, and the story changes into a mystery, which Leo feels compelled to unravel. This is beautifully written and Leo an interesting narrator. I think this novel would have much to offer reading groups and enjoyed it very much; both the story and characters will stay with me for a long while.
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