This will be a shockingly short review for an immense book. Siri Hustvedt is a well-respected, much lauded writer. Her writing crosses genres, as do her passions and her expertise. In “A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women”, Hustvedt has compiled essays which marry her interests in science and art, essays “on art, feminism, neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy”.
Now, I wear my nerd badge proudly, but Hustvedt’s writing in “A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women” felt academic and abstruse to the point of non-engagement and, often, non-comprehension. I struggled off and on for months to finish this book, appreciative of Hustvedt’s clear brilliance but never able to find flow or shake the feeling of slogging. The reviews and reactions to this work which I’ve encountered have been similar, in that readers comment that they understood less than half of what they read or felt it was above their heads. What I’ve struggled with is that in the same breath, so many readers have declared bafflement and yet sung the book’s praises. To me, if a book is inscrutable, perhaps it hasn’t accomplished its purpose. If writing, particularly in essay form, is meant to convey meaning and a message to the reader, then abstruse, impenetrable prose falls flat. I believe that Siri Hustvedt can write and look forward to reading other works by her in the future. I choose to believe that this particular book was an anomalous misfire.