Siri Hustvedt is one of my favourite authors; if she chose to write a book about watching paint dry, I’d be riveted. I know not everybody shares my point of view, some think her writing pretentious (Mon Dieu!) but I am always deeply moved by her stories.
In her latest novel, The Summer Without Men, Mia’s husband of thirty years, Boris, suddenly falls madly in love (lust?) with a young Frenchwoman, and asks for a ‘pause’ from the marriage. Mia falls to pieces, but the book isn’t about this. We join the story when she’s no longer ‘temporarily deranged’ and has decided to leave Brooklyn – and the marital home – to be closer to her mother in Minnesota.
In the ‘backwater town’ where Mia grew up, she begins to recover. She teaches poetry to a group of teenage girls, receives reports on Boris via her daughter, learns the secrets of the ‘Five Swans’ – the elderly women who live in the same old people’s home as her mother. There’s a troubled couple with two small children living next to flat Mia rents; there’s a crisis amongst her poetry students.
All the women around Mia: her neighbour, the young, harassed mother; the teenage girls whose cruelty towards one another seems to know no bounds; the dignified Five Swans, force Mia to reflect on her own situation, but also to distance herself from it. When the Psychiatrist, Dr S., tells Mia she’s enjoying herself, Mia is surprised to find this to be true.
But don’t get me wrong – this book is no ‘ode to women’ – quite the opposite. It’s an enchanting tale of a marriage as well as a reflective look on what it is to be a girl and a woman. I read this book – very aptly – while on holiday with my girlfriends. It made me cry and it made me laugh. You really cannot ask any more from a book.