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The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt
This is the first book that was selected for my book club this year, and when I first heard the title, my first feeling was of relaxation. I was imagining a time of women sitting around exchanging ideas, being free of the shackles of men, dancing, rejoicing, reading books under the shade of a tree...and no mention of men. In some ways, I was rewarded with this. When my oldest son (12yrs) saw the title, he shuddered saying, "Urgh, I could think of nothing worse." Well, there you go, I live in a house full of men, I would delight in it, I think.
This book is the follows Mia, the poet, and her ramblings (in a great way) as she tries to mend her shattered heart and mind. She is coming to terms with her husband, Boris, making the decision to have a "Pause" after 30 odd years. A lovely young French woman aptly takes on the name in Mia's voice as "Pause", we learn nothing more of her. Mia has been thrown so far from her place of comfort that she has a moment of temporary insanity whilst Boris takes up with the Pause. To recover after her time in the hospital, Mia seeks shelter amongst women, her mother, her sister, teaching poetry to young teenage girls and doing book club with elderly women. Through these interactions Mia begins to find her strength again as she reflects on her relationship and the damage that the Pause has had on her. Her daughter Daisy desperately tries to pull her parents back together, like so many children of broken relationships do. Siri deals with this reality so well.
In the elderly women (The Swans), Mia finds an unusual, yet lovely surprise in Abagail as secrets unfold in the most unusual ways. Mia also finds herself in the midst of a teenage whirlwind with a bad smell. She uses what she knows best to work through this - writing. It proves to be a very useful tool.
I loved the cross generational relationships in this book and how they are so important to each other, the wisdom, the youth, the reminders to each other and they can help each other. Siri reminds us how important it is to have these cross generational relationships.
For a book titled "The Summer Without Men" I wasn't expecting so much referencing to the men in her life and other's lives. Early on I found it distracting. On reflection, however, this was the reality of Mia's life, Boris had been such an important part of her life, she could not live a summer with mentioning him, thinking of him every day.
The book itself is a great read and a short read. Siri has Mia writing to the reader in a lyrical prose, best read quickly in longer sittings rather than little grabs. I am looking forward to a re-read as I think that this book actually warrants it, and I now know that I will set aside the time to read it in large chunks than the little moments at bedtime that I did.