A meditation on writing and remembering

A young woman trying to make her way as an artist in 1970s New York is the subject of Siri Hustvedt’s seventh novel – an exuberant, nimble-footed piece of work by the prolific American author.

Memories Of The Future, narrated by the protagonist’s 61-year-old self, who goes by the initials SH, is a portrait of the artist as a young woman. The story unfolds through a series of diary entries she wrote when she arrived in New York from rural Minnesota in the summer of 1978 – much like Hustvedt herself.

These are interspersed with excerpts from a mystery novel which the young SH – or “Minnesota”, as her friends call her – was trying to write at the time.

Like Sherlock Holmes (another SH), the narrator is a detective, albeit the introspective kind, and she launches into an investigative meditation on the processes of writing and remembering.

There is a wonderful lightness to Hustvedt’s prose.

“I remember the door closing on Mr Rosales,” she writes, recounting the experience of moving into Apartment 2B, “and I remember my jubilation. I remember the two rooms of the old apartment, and I can walk from one to the other in my mind.”

Male oppression of women routinely rears its head in the novel. These range from subtle shades of sexism to assault and attempted rape. And Marcel Duchamp’s famous urinal sculpture, the protagonist tells us, might in fact have been the work of a female Dada artist – the German baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven.



    By Siri Hustvedt

    Hodder & Stoughton/ Paperback/ 318 pages/ $29.95/Books Kinokuniya

    4 stars

The protagonist exerts her own indirect, writerly revenge. Her father tells her she would make a good nurse, but SH ends up becoming a doctor, albeit the academic kind.

Later, Minnesota forgets the name of a condescending philosophy professor and refers to him as his wife’s husband – a backhanded jibe, perhaps, at how Hustvedt has often been seen through the prism of her more famous husband, novelist Paul Auster.

Memories Of The Future is a pleasurable read, but the energy of the first half of the book is not quite sustained and much of the story is quite unmemorable.

But in its imperfection, its clumsy attempt to tie the threads together, the novel approaches a kind of truth.

There is nothing more human, after all, than the attempt to trace a narrative out of haphazard nothings – in a world where the greatest mysteries are unsolved and the dots may never connect, not even when one is looking backwards.

If you like this, read: The Blazing World (Hodder, $18.95, Books Kinokuniya), Hustvedt’s novel about the widow of a successful art dealer who plots revenge against the male-dominated New York art world.