Artist Harriet Burden, consumed by fury at the lack of recognition she has received from the New York art establishment, embarks on an experiment: she hides her identity behind three male fronts who exhibit her work as their own. And yet, even after she has unmasked herself, there are those who refuse to believe she is the woman behind the men.
Presented as a collection of texts compiled by a scholar years after Burden's death, the story unfolds through extracts from her notebooks, reviews and articles, as well as testimonies from her children, her lover, a dear friend, and others more distantly connected to her. Each account is different, however, and the mysteries multiply. One thing is clear: Burden's involvement with the last of her 'masks' turned into a dangerous psychological game that ended with the man's bizarre death.
This is a polyphonic tour de force from the internationally acclaimed author of What I Loved, an intricately conceived, diabolical puzzle that explores the way prejudice, fame, money and desire influence our perceptions of one another. Emotionally intense, intellectually rigorous, ironic and playful, The Blazing World is as gripping as it is thought-provoking.
I have told nearly everyone I love - and some random acquaintances - to stop whatever they are doing and read [Hustvedt's] new novel . . . The Blazing World is the playful, ebullient, brainy story of Harriet "Harry" Burden, an artist in her early sixties . . . The book is clearly a feminist undertaking but joyously, unpredictably so. Hustvedt eschews all feminist cliché. She throws herself into rich ambiguities . . . Hustvedt's novels have always been smart, accomplished, critically acclaimed but this one feels like a departure. There is more heat in it, more wildness; it seems to burst on to a whole other level of achievement and grace . . . the book will blaze through the world. — Katie Roiphe, Financial Times
This novel is like a palimpsest, built from many paper-tissue thin layers, some more transparent than others, and told through many voices, put together so cleverly it is not clear where the lines are between fact and fiction, let alone between the fictions within the fiction . . . Siri Hustvedt has created a complex world of play and interplay. This novel is a puzzle, a mystery, a dance, filled with intrigue, a truly wonderful intellectual work that makes you think and laugh and tickles the brain. — Victoria Moore, Daily Mail
Harry is a lovable, maddening whirlwind . . . The fury is brilliantly done, and so is the love affair Harry embarks on with a fat failed poet . . . Hustvedt writes with a cool precision that can give her work a blistering power . . . The Blazing World is a dazzling novel, the kind that makes you cry (or nearly cry) as well as think. — Christina Patterson, The Sunday Times
There is a fair amount of anger in the book: feminist anger, but also disdain for journalists, for the art industry, for a gendered world that ignores women like Harriet and rewards men like her husband . . . It might have become shrill in the hands of a lesser writer. As it is, it is at once a story of a privileged Upper East type who bleeds the wounds of Western liberal feminism, and also the universal, deeply affecting story of overshadowed women who are made - or make themselves - small, however big their ambition . . . The Blazing World is a profound and deeply serious book on many levels, but it is most entertaining in its critique of the New York art scene - its vanities, double standards, blind-spots . . . [A novel of] immense soulfulness and wisdom — Arifa Akbar, Independent
The richness and playfulness of the novel is down to the way it is structured . . . What is remarkable is the way Hustvedt manages to take her range of intellectual interests and this ostensibly complex format and forge a gripping narrative. — Duncan White, Daily Telegraph
It is an exuberantly clever piece of work. Fascinated by disguise, play-acting and ventriloquism, it lures its readers into a maze of characters, viewpoints and apparently persuasive arguments - then insists, refreshingly, that they think their way out . . . There's a central mystery to unravel in The Blazing World, but its real pleasures come from Hustvedt's startling talent for voice and register . . . the narrative becomes a brilliant catfight of dogmas and orthodoxies . . . a novel that gloriously lives up to its title, one blazing with energy and thought. — Tim Martin, The Times
Hustvedt offers a slickly written multiplicity of perspectives . . . The Blazing World ramps up thrillingly as it becomes apparent that Harriet's final collaboration has taken a sinister turn . . . Densely brilliant, but terrifyingly clever . . . But you don't need a PhD in Kierkegaard to enjoy Hustvedt's writing, and it's a pleasure to feel your brain whirring as it forges links and finds the cracks across differing accounts . . . Hustvedt's text is carefully, impressively constructed: she's as convincing in each fictional voice as Harriet is in her masks. — Holly Williams, Independent on Sunday
Both intellectually and emotionally gripping . . . the generosity of the storytelling leads to full and often affecting backstories for all the main characters . . . [it] feels like one of those novels in which a well-established author triumphantly sums up, and possibly even surpasses, everything they've done before. — James Walton, Spectator
Even by Siri Hustvedt's extremely high standards, The Blazing World is an extraordinary book . . . Hustvedt juggles the many voices and many truths masterfully, drawing the reader into an intricate and a puzzling web . . . The precision of the language makes each detail jewel-like and tangible. — Clare Heal, Sunday Express
Her prose is brilliant, furious, teeming with intelligence and life - an experiment in reception itself. — Literary Review