‘There isn’t a thing in the world worth fighting for except peace of mind’. All his books are autobiographical and interconnected between them, from ‘Tropic of Cancer’ and ‘Tropic of Capricorn’, to ‘Plexus’, ‘Sexus’ and lastly ‘Nexus’. All have the same main character, the same author, Henry Miller and his exhaustive struggle to become a known writer, despite the innumerable difficulties that seem to attack him from every angle. A childhood with a toxic mother, followed by a total incapacity to overcome poverty and finishing with a wife that possesses so many prisms and fake stories to every question that not even the same Miller can decipher.
‘You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends’. John Dunn, Joan Didion’s husband, died of a heart attack, suddenly and unexpectedly. In fact, the sick one was not John but Quintana, their daughter, who had been in a coma caused by a bad pneumonia. By that that point they didn’t know if Quintana was not going to live, or to die. In the words of her doctor ‘We’re still not sure which way this is going’.
I wanted to read this book for a long time. I considered it an ovation to feminism. It really is. Vivian Gornick’s feminists statements are the mix of a self-portrait of a woman who decided to live alone, and another who is looking for meaningful company. She has devoted to the type of feminism that was on furore on the 70s, the one that is not into marriage. This type of feminism that interlocks with spinsterhood is the life she has been living since then. Gornick loved to find sisterhood groups, full with intellectual-type ladies, dedicated to solve the problems of the everyday life for women. However, those groups always lost their momentum, and ended up melting again into the same cultural patterns they were fighting, alienating her all over again.
Siri Hustvedt shows how multifaceted she is in this book. This not come as a surprise, as she has always said that she has made several working papers and studies in psychology and psychiatry. And she demonstrates her knowledge in this field in What I love. This is a wonderful book, where a fine writing gets mixed with an unbelievable story. A story that goes deep down into the characters, exploring love, divorce, art, mental health and grief.
It is the story of Theodore Decker, a boy from New York. His life was full of obstacles since the very beginning. A good boy that had to shape himself into the different circumstances that were occurring in his life. He had a loving mother and this was the refreshing part of his beginnings. But this love had to mix with an alcoholic and indifferent father, who fortunately abandoned them when Theo was in his teenage years. However, life fell apart when his mother died during an explosion in the Metropolitan Museum, where they were looking for his mother’s favourite Dutch exposition that included the Goldfinch. Theo, injured but conscious, stole the painting from the museum, under the advice of a dying man who was also visiting the exposition with his niece.
Ernest Hemingway talks in ‘A Moveable Feast’ of when he lost his manuscripts. How painful must have been for a writer that had dedicated his soul and body to give shape to his ideas. We all know how hard it is to lose an important text, but being a young Hemingway, still unsure of his method, without even knowing if that method was reaching its potential and if his lyrics would someday find fame, could have been devastating, as his wife lost his suitcase in a Parisian train station in 1922.
Let me talk today about one of my most precious treasures. As a good treasured it fell into my hands by a simple coincidence. I was in Sydney, where I used to live, and as it always happens —it is still happening to me here in France—, when I cannot find books in Spanish I don’t know what to choose. I was randomly looking inside Harry Hartog, my favourite bookstore in Bondi, when I found it. Strange title, I thought. I then saw a note of recommendation classifying it as one of the best books in fiction. I bought it and left it in my own little library for two months. And when I finally took it I regret of having lost two months in which I should had known everything about this book.