The Blazing World

By Siri Hustvedt
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Synopsis

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.

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Review

Exasperated by what she sees as the art world’s chauvinism, Harriet ‘Harry’ Burden collaborates with three male artists to produce works that she makes but which will be exhibited under the men’s names. Siri Hustvedt’s satire explores gender politics, the point where a collaboration can turn into exploitation and, in the descriptions of Harry’s works, manages that rare thing: writing about fictional artworks which read so convincingly that the reader yearns to see them.

Neil D A Stewart