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Review: The Summer Without Men

July 28, 2011

When Mia’s neuroscientist husband asks for a “Pause” in their marriage she falls apart and ends up in the psychiatric ward.  Upon release, she returns to the town she grew up in to spend time with her mother while she attempts to restore her mental health.

The Summer Without Men, by Siri Hustvedt is a slim novel, but it’s not a quick read.  It’s a book that needs to be read slowly in order to glean it’s deeper meaning, and there were many times I felt that was lost on me. There are no chapters in this book, but there are a few line drawings and I didn’t understand the meaning of all of them either.

Mia’s rented a house for the summer and spends her time visiting her mother and her mother’s friends in an assisted living facility, teaching poetry to seven teen-aged girls, and helping a neighbor with her young children.  The narration switches from Mia’s internal dialogue to encounters with her mother, her class, and her neighbor and I found the transitions jarring and confusing at times.  I enjoyed Hustvedt’s writing and the story as I read it, but at the end, I felt like I had missed something.  I have a feeling there’s symbolism and a deeper meaning that evaded me.

If you’re looking for a light, breezy read, The Summer Without Men is not for you.  This book is for those who like to savor books and search for symbolism.   I think it would make a great book club pick, though, because I wanted to find someone to discuss it with after I finished it.

Review copy provided by Picador.   I am an Indiebound Affiliate.

36 Comments leave one →
  1. July 28, 2011 6:04 am

    Symbolism, nope not for me. I got enough of that in a uni class

  2. bethfishreads permalink
    July 28, 2011 6:31 am

    Humm, I admit by the title I was thinking light-ish summer read. I’ll wait until I’m in the mood for a deeper read.

  3. July 28, 2011 7:04 am

    Interesting review – from the title, I would have thought chick lit, but obviously it is entirely different.

  4. July 28, 2011 7:20 am

    A very honest and interesting review. It probably would have been helpful if the author had included book club questions at the back of the book. When I read the title, I thought, oh this sounds like a light, fun read. I have a couple of friends who would probably dive into the book and love it. They’re “deep” readers. I tend to be a “fast” reader.

  5. July 28, 2011 7:26 am

    I thought this was going to be a light book for sure, but you’ve surprised me. I think I’ll pass on this one. Although I don’t always want light reading, I don’t really like weeding through symbolism.

  6. July 28, 2011 7:58 am

    I’m with Candace — I thought this would be a lighter read. Well if you felt as if you didn’t get it, then I’m sure I won’t either.

  7. July 28, 2011 8:51 am

    Interesting concept though, a pause in a marriage, doesn’t that happen naturally. Thanks for your review. Not sure I’ll seek this one out, but if it falls in my path…

  8. July 28, 2011 8:57 am

    I am not sure this is a book for me. It’s meanings and symbolism would probably be lost on me too. That cover sure had me thinking chicklit and light read. That must be why it is not good to judge a book by it’s cover. Thanks for your honest review.

  9. July 28, 2011 9:14 am

    Thanks for the honest review. I don’t think I’ll be seeking this one out. I could probably handle the symbolism, but one of my big book pet peeves is no chapters. There’s something motivating about knowing I’m about to complete a chapter. When there is no clear break then I find the story starts to ramble and my mind starts to drift.

  10. July 28, 2011 9:20 am

    I have been wanting to try The Summer Without Men for quite some time. I like books with symbolism, unless they are too difficult to grasp. Even though this one doesn’t seem like an easy read, I think I would still like to read it once. Thanks for the review!

  11. July 28, 2011 9:31 am

    I’ve heard that this author writes on the gloomy, depressing side! Takes an extra effort to get me to pick up a book like that, no matter how good people say it is!

  12. July 28, 2011 10:18 am

    I’ve seen some mixed reviews of this one, but I’ve been curious to read Hustvedt and the gender angle does appeal to me!

  13. July 28, 2011 10:38 am

    I don’t think this one would be for me either. It’s probably the breaking up of a marriage, and depression that would turn me away from reading it.

  14. July 28, 2011 10:50 am

    Ha ha, I love the title, I am without any paramour these days, so it might be a read for me 🙂

  15. July 28, 2011 10:59 am

    Sounds like a different kind of book. One that needs to be dissected in an English Lit class.

  16. July 28, 2011 11:06 am

    It sounds like there is a lot going on for such a short book. I admit that since I have been out of school, I have not been very good about disseminating texts trying to find a deeper meaning.

  17. July 28, 2011 11:24 am

    From the title I imagined a story that would examine the roles men play in women’s lives and, hopefully, be meaningful, if not fun. Sorry it’s not that.

  18. July 28, 2011 11:59 am

    I love this type of a book. I often wonder if a marriage falling apart can cause a true, mental breakdown. I was thinking if it did, perhaps the line drawings had to do with mental illness and her deterioration. If so, a sane person would have a hard time making sense of them,

  19. July 28, 2011 12:11 pm

    This does sound rather interesting, but definitely not a book to bring to the pool with you. I think it would be intriguing to read it now, after having read your review, and knowing that there are parts that would make me mentally stumble. I wonder if I would get it? Very enticing review, Kathy. I can’t say that I would have ever thought of picking this one up, but now you’ve made me so darn curious!

  20. July 28, 2011 12:25 pm

    Symbolism doesn’t always work for me, but I like the sound of this book. Maybe I’ll wait a bit and check.

  21. Veens permalink
    July 28, 2011 4:19 pm

    I do not think I can read this book at this point of time. Thanks for the honest review

  22. July 28, 2011 4:39 pm

    I went to request this from the library after seeing it mentioned somewhere. I was sooo disappointed about the cover. I think I must have seen the UK cover and it was fantastic! This is terrible in comparison, so I didn’t request it in the end…

  23. July 28, 2011 5:52 pm

    Mixed reviews kind of scare me…and symbolism…wow…but you did a lovely job with your review…

  24. July 28, 2011 6:56 pm

    Ok, so all else aside, you totally had me at “savor books and search for symbolism”. Oh! Oh! Me! Might go try this one out.

  25. July 28, 2011 7:01 pm

    Your review has definitely piqued my interest in this book…especially since I was thinking it was a lighter read because of the title. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like for Mia when her husband asked for a “pause” which, incidentally, is an odd request, too. It’s not surprising to me that she ende up in the psych ward. I’m interested to see how Mia comes out of this….or if she doesn’t!
    Thanks Kathy!

  26. July 28, 2011 7:29 pm

    I don’t mind books that are meant to be savored, but searching for or weeding through symbolism is not my cup of tea.

  27. July 28, 2011 8:33 pm

    It sounds like something I’d read for school. I enjoy it, get some meaning out of it, then go to class and have someone blow me away with what they got out of it. Symbolism often goes flying over my head. I love the premise of the book, though, and I’m interested in how it ends.

  28. July 29, 2011 12:59 am

    I need chapters. They don’t have to be numbered, just titles are ok. Without them I seem to lose my orientation. If I was in the right mood I might like this book although from the description it’s not what I would normally pick up.

  29. July 29, 2011 5:24 am

    This book is new to me. I like the title, but not sure I would catch the deeper meaning either.

  30. July 29, 2011 9:59 pm

    Yikes. Symbolism is not my cup of tea. Kudos to you for reading all the way through.

  31. kaye permalink
    July 30, 2011 8:10 am

    The title is intriguing but from your review, it doesn’t sound like my cuppa either. Thanks for your honest evaluation.

  32. July 30, 2011 9:48 pm

    Gosh, yes! Based on the cover (and title), I’d expect it to be a lighter read. Thanks for the heads up — I’ve added this to my wish list (likely a fall read), and will chat with you by email when I’ve got it read 🙂

  33. July 31, 2011 12:21 pm

    I’d be tempted for the challenge this little book possesses. I’ll keep in mind your thoughts when and if I decide to be up to the feat for reading The Summer Without Men.

  34. July 31, 2011 5:34 pm

    I’m just not one for deeper meanings 😦 I just want to read it and enjoy it. Now if I was in a bookclub then this would be o.k. to pick up and read!

  35. July 31, 2011 8:11 pm

    It sounds like a few books I’ve read … I don’t enjoy this kind of reading experience. It isn’t fun when you think you are missing most of what is being said. I think I’ll skip this one.

  36. August 3, 2011 12:52 am

    I have seen a few similar reviews for this one. And it definitely intrigues me. I enjoy a challenging book every now and then, especially when it is well written.

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