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The Summer Without Men

by Siri Hustvedt

Mia Frederickson, a fifty-something poet, has been asked for a break in their marriage by her husband of thirty years, as he takes up with a younger model whom Mia dubs ‘the Pause’. This totally unexpected announcement tips Mia over the edge and she has a serious mental breakdown.

Mia returns to the Minnesota town where she grew up to recuperate. She rents a house for the summer allowing her to spend time with her mother and her mother’s widowed friends in their retirement home. She teaches a poetry class to a group of pubescent girls whom she nicknames ‘the Coven’ and she befriends her neighbour, Lola, a young mother of two with a rather ineffectual husband.

One of the things I especially liked about this book is its portrayal of the generational stages of womanhood. Her time in Minnesota and the women she meets allow Mia to re-examine her own life: the old ladies facing the inevitable with stoicism and humour; the dichotomies of teenage girls’ behaviour - awkwardness/self-confidence, bitchiness/loyalty - that she urges them to express through their (sometimes pretty bad) poetry; and her observation of Lola and the loneliness and wonderfulness of new-motherhood. Mia reflects on Lola especially as she remembers her own daughter’s babyhood - that daughter who is now stuck between parents who can’t even talk to each other.

Siri Hustvedt is clever and erudite so she can’t help chucking in her knowledge of poetry and the classics but she’s also very astute and the book is laced with Mia’s acerbic humour. If your group is looking for something that will provoke debate then there’s plenty here to discuss!

Published by Sceptre – 216pp

Irene Haynes

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