Saturday, November 01, 2014

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NY1 teams with contributors from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, Slate.com and Essence Magazine to review the latest books and book-related trends.

The Book Reader: 'The Blazing World'

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Daniel D'Addario of Salon reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."

Siri Hustvedt has a great deal to say about the status of women in the arts in her new novel "The Blazing World," but know first that it's complicated.

"The Blazing World" takes its title from a work of fiction from 17th-century writer Margaret Cavendish. Cavendish emerges as an totem for protagonist Harriet Burden, an artist neglected by the wider world either because of inability to keep up with changing trends or due to her own neuroses. Or both. Burden is a frustrating, fascinating character in a deeply psychological novel that pulls together various characters' perspectives in order to convey just how tough it is to make enduring art in a marketplace that rewards novelty.

Burden is unable to fit into a scene able to process art by women unless it's explicitly political "feminist art," so she decides to put out her work under the names of three men. She's extremely productive, but in life, the men (including, finally, the enigmatic art star known only as Rune) get the credit, as well as the gallery space a woman couldn't really have hoped for.

The novel is a compelling look at the 20th-century art scene that brought to mind a less aggressively stylized version of Rachel Kushner's recent "The Flamethrowers," another superlative novel about the places women can carve out for themselves in a world, and an industry, dominated by men and defined by machismo. Art-world gossip aside, "The Blazing World" is an intriguing look inside the psychology of a woman who makes a very particular choice to speak through men, her own voice having been muted both by the world's intransigence and her own unwillingness to fight.

Hustvedt is a prolific writer on many subjects - she's written six novels, as well as essays on art and psychoanalysis - and her various expertise is brought to bear on a novel that goes deep inside Burden's mind.

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