Friday, 23 September 2011

The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt

Waterstones very kindly gave me a copy of The Summer Without Men to review.

Here's the synopsis:
After Mia Fredricksen's husband of thirty years asks for a pause - so he can indulge his infatuation with a young French colleague -  she cracks up (briefly), rages (deeply), then decamps to her prairie childhood home.

There, gradually, she is drawn into the lives of those around her: her mother's circle of feisty widows; the young woman next door; and the diabolical teenage girls in her poetry class. By the end of the summer without men, Mia knows what's worth fighting for - and on whose terms.

Provocative, mordant, and fiercely intelligent, this is a gloriously vivacious tragi-comedy about women and girls, love and marriage, and the age-old war between the sexes.

At it's heart this book is the story of one woman trying to find herself after her husband meets someone else and asks to "pause" their marriage. It's very well handled and very well written. Through time spent with her mother and her friends, time spent with the seven teenage girls who she teaches poetry and with her 20 something neighbour with young children. Mia sees different stages of life and the problems they bring - bullying, failing health, adjusting to parenthood, etc and thinking back over her own life is able to begin to heal from what her husband did.

Mia is a poet. Throughout the book are poems she wrote, poems the teens wrote and snippets of famous poems. It makes for a very nice feel in the book and makes it that little bit different from regular fiction. I don't read poetry as a rule and it's making me think maybe I should give it a go.

Mental health issues feature in this book and in my opinion are handled very sensitively. Disability isn't always handled well, however, with two uses of the R word and a person with muscular dystrophy being mentioned in passing along with the suggestion of pity.

I found this book hard to get into and initially it didn't hold my attention. I ended up putting it aside for a week or so and reading a couple of other books before going back to it. On the whole it was worth the read.

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