The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt

I was so excited to find this book.  I’d been looking for a third book to make up a “3 for 2” offer but nothing had immediately caught my eye.  I read “What I Loved” by the same author a few years ago, and couldn’t put it down.  The synopsis on the back of this new book sounded promising, so I looked forward to losing myself in this new story.  The plot revolves around Mia, a middle aged mother of a grown up daughter, whose husband wants a “pause” in their 30 year marriage while he has an affair with a younger colleague.  Mia has a breakdown and endures a short spell in hospital before renting a house near her own mother for the duration of the summer while she recovers.

Unfortunately, I was so disappointed with this book.  Part of that disappointment relates to the way the book is set out.  It is a relatively short book, 216 pages, but has no chapters, no natural breaks in the story and I sometimes found this difficult as there was never a logical place to stop.  I think so much more could have been made of the storyline, which really sparked my initial interest.  I thought early on in the book that I might struggle with it as the part dealing with Mia’s reaction to her husband’s departure is covered in three or four pages.  I thought the tone of the book could have been set much more convincingly had this section been developed.  The ending also irritated me as the husband and “the pause” part company and he asks Mia to take him back.  It seemed to me that she agrees far too readily, without really standing up for herself or renegotiating the terms of their marriage.  It was almost as if she had no other choice and this after spending the summer in the company of strong feisty women, all but one of whom were living without men.  Maybe I thought that the book was going to follow some other template, possibly in the vein of Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room and in expecting the story to follow that path I was just setting myself up for disappointment.  I like to think, though, that if the story had been engaging enough, I could have come to terms with that and enjoyed it for what it was.

Hustvedt is a great author and she writes some brilliantly lyrical and enjoyable passages in this book, but the book as a whole turned out to be something far removed from what I was expecting and ultimately just wasn’t to my taste.

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