marginalia || The Blindfold, by Siri Hustvedt

#65 of 2010 • The Blindfold—the first novel (1992) of Siri Hustvedt. [I not-quite digress: Part of Hustvedt’s bio reads, “She lives in Brooklyn with her husband,” and I was this close to scribbling WHO HAPPENS TO BE PAUL AUSTER. But, well, Siri beat me to it; The Blindfold is, quite clearly, dedicated to her husband. “For Paul Auster,” we are told.]

What you’ve forgotten is that some things are unspeakable. That’s what you’ve left out. Words may cover it up a while, but then it comes howling back.

While I was reading this book, I had to raise my head several times to reflect on whether I was intelligent enough to be reading this book. Such a cerebral novel, yet never alienating. Always haunting, always disconcerting. Always drawing me in. In one section, our heroine Iris Vegan works for recluse Mr. Morning–describing objects, writing about them, whispering the text into a tape recorder. The objects are from a catalog a murdered woman’s possessions. “The project,” Iris tells us, “seemed odd to the point of madness.” And yet she keeps on. It’s an exercise of focus, of focusing the gaze to objects she has no relation to.

[Another digression: I have to remember studying French poet Francis Ponge, who, in his poetry, explored”the tension between the language and the world.” I wrote in a paper, “One of the more notable dimensions of Ponge’s works is the relationship between the observer (or his consciousness) and the objects under scrutiny. The intense concentration directed towards these objects not only lull the reader into assigning more of their concentration to them, but, seemingly, allows the inanimate object to move within the “life” created by Ponge’s ministrations. This correlation between attention and importance inevitably launches the reader into contemplation. Man attaches principles to an object, and object inevitably reflects principles back to man.” Exactly.]

But she looks for answers.

Another section deals with identity blurring. And more focus on objects, particularly a photograph. Iris has a love affair with a secretive man (Stephen), a relationship further complicated by the arrival of photographer George.

George was Stephen’s friend first, and I suppose that was part of the problem.

Hello, mixed signals love triangle. It’s in this section that that cerebral-ness acquires an eroticism.

I looked at his mouth and found it beautiful for the first time.

♦ Words that kept popping up in my note-taking: Identity, Distortions, Words, Objects, Lovers. The lover’s gaze distorting identity. Objects distorting identity, further jeopardizes tenuous relationships. Words that should not be said, said. What makes identity? Is it necessary to know everything about someone, and something? Definition. To make finite. Over and over.

Whether I was screaming profanity or cooing reassurance, the words I spoke seemed to come from a script as old as the hills, and I felt like a character in a farce.

I could go on and on and on about this novel.

♦ I wonder if Auster and Hustvedt brainstorm together?

Before I knew it, I had spoken like a fool. “You’ve never loved me,” I said.

Stephen’s face lost its tension, and I remember thinking how easy it is to speak in clichés, to steal a line from pulp fiction and let it fall. We can only hover around the inexpressible with our words anyway, and there is comfort in saying what we have heard before. Stephen had a ready answer. “I’ve always loved you,” he said. “I just don’t love you in the way you want.”

♦ Everyone should read this book, so I can talk to them about it; I suspect I’ll go a little crazy obsessing about it by my lonesome. Ah, obsession.

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21 comments

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  2. I’ve been so curious about Hustvedt, and your thoughts here are only increasing my curiosity! How do you feel about Auster? I read his Manhattan trilogy earlier this year & thoroughly enjoyed it, while somehow also finding it a bit…soulless.

    1. Thank you, Emily. Auster and I have a complicated relationship. I admire his writing, how cerebral it can be–but he does leave one cold. I don’t get heart from him when I read his novels. I mean, they’re good, and I enjoy them–but they don’t stay with you. At least, that’s how I felt it.

      There’s a softness to Hustvedt’s cerebralness, I think.

  3. Still haven’t tried any of her books, or for that matter any of his. This one sounds so intriguing but it’s probably one of those books I have to be in the mood for as it sounds like something you have to work through a bit.

    1. While I was reading her (and this is my first Hustvedt novel), I was thinking how I might just not like the book if I’d read it at a different time. But I really can’t be certain now, can I? :D I did love this book, and would definitely read more of Siri.

  4. This sounds intriguing for sure. I’ve never heard of this author before. I’m glad you enjoyed it so much and you are most definitely intelligent enough for it! Very well written review!

    1. Thank you so much, Julie. And I only learned of her because she’s Paul Auster’s wife. :) But I’m glad I got to read her. Since finishing The Blindfold, I’m very eager to read more of her.

  5. oh i liked this book a lot but it’s been so long ago since i read this. the lily dahl one i probably like best though, but they are all so different, they all have the same sort of quiteness about them, a gentleness and clarity, what i loved is probably less disconcerting than the lily dahl and the blindfold one though. nice to see the book rediscovered here.

    1. Thank you so much, I love your comment. I’ve wanted to try Hustvedt for so long, and I’m glad I found this book. It’s a wonderful intro to her. I’ll definitely check out her other novels. Quiet, gentle, and clear. You say it best. :)

  6. I love Paul Auster and his wife is quite intelligent too! My favourite Siri Hustvedt is What I Loved. Definitely a must read!

    1. What I Loved will be my next Hustvedt read. As soon as I find it!

    2. Okay, I just found What I Loved. :]

  7. Great review, Sasha. I have not yet read either Paul or Siri, though I have Paul’s Invisible waiting. Now, I must read something by Siri Hustvedt. “Cerebral”, “haunting”, “disconcerting”, these are irresistible descriptors. I love a novel over my head and disturbing in a gently threatening way.

    1. Thank you so much. :) I just found this comment, haha. And, as you know, I love your review of What I Loved. Here’s to more Hustvedt!

      1. Yes, Blindfold is next. It would have been first, but the library had What I Loved available…..

        Re-reading your review makes me want to go out and find Blindfold right now. I need more time to read.

        1. Thanks, Kerry. I am liking how we back-and-forth Hustvedt and Auster, haha. My next mission: To introduce you to Lydia Davis.

  8. I’ve always wanted to read Siri, since I learned that she was Paul Auster’s wife. I’ll keep this on the list, thanks!

    1. Yeah, that was my nefarious agenda going into Hustvedt. :) But she’s good, I really liked this one. Of course she rocks as Paul Auster’s wife. But I’m now more in awe that there’s Paul Auster-Siri Hustvedt royalty that exists, haha. And that very hawt daughter of theirs, heh.

  9. […] The Blindfold, by Siri Hustvedt. […]

  10. […] not call upon a metaphor here.] This is only my second book by the author — her first novel, The Blindfold [click for review], was my first read of hers – but she’s quickly becoming one of my […]

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