Book of the Week: Living, Thinking, Looking by Siri Hustvedt

Living, Thinking, Looking by Siri Hustvedt is our new Book of the Week.


Anyone who has read a book by American novelist Siri Hustvedt will know that she is one of those rare authors who can change you, and the way you think. There’s a clarity to her prose, as well as an almost abrasive interrogative questioning of human nature, and its tragicomic, that make her one of our best contemporary writers to date.

Now, with her latest collection of essays Living, Thinking, Looking, we are given the chance to see inside the imaginings of Hustvedt herself. Bringing together writings over a period from 2006 to 2011, the book is divided as per the three words of the title. ‘Living’ being a close look at Hustvedt’s life, her observations and her sufferings (which range from migraines to insomnia),’Thinking’ exploring the process of writing, memory and emotion, and ‘Looking’ turning a critical eye to visual art (anyone who has read Hustvedt’s What I Loved will know that she soars at this).

As Salley Vickers wrote for both The Observer and The Guardian, ‘What Hustvedt grasps so finely is the multitudinous and mysterious ways in which people can be and are “changed” through meeting and accepting otherness. And such changes are not confined to those close human ties which both bind and liberate us but also to our relationships with our own bodies … and through that peculiar alchemical encounter with “otherness” better known as art’.

Hustvedt is especially eloquent about these changes in essays such as ‘My Father/Myself’, in which she writes of our complex relationship with our parents, and the distance between her and her father during her adult life. A particular fragment of insight:

‘My father was very ill when I finished my third novel [*What I Loved*] and sent my parents the manuscript. The book was the first I wrote in the voice of a man. One afternoon, the phone rang, and to my surprise it was my father. He rarely called… Without warning, he launched into a disquisition on the book, heaping praise on my literary efforts. And I began to sob… We were changed then, my father and I.’

Living, Thinking, Looking is out now in paperback ($24.99)