The protagonist of Siri Hustvedt’s The Blindfold is, for the bulk of the story, aged about twenty two, a period of life in which certain things – art, lust, ideas – can seem to needle more prominently at your conscience. This is one of the things Hustvedt’s debut does well, outlining the youthful need to define things and be defined. The novel rings with the urgency of conversations, events and thoughts, but equally frustrates with inertia and the inability to make things happen, which of course is just as youthful.
Whether posing for a photographer or translating an obscure German novel, interactions with art and artists colour Iris’ sojourns through a city that’s often masterfully indifferent. She is negotiating not only the streets and their heavily masculine terrain, but her identity. She attempts to forge some kind of rewarding path there, all the while striving to obtain a self-image she can trust. This is almost always done in relation to difficult and inappropriate men. Set in the late seventies, it’s possible this is a woman who literally does not know what to do with her own liberation. In fact, the possible liberating effects of fluid personalities means reality itself is frequently wrong-footed. At one point it seems a posed photograph of Iris has taken on a life of its own. The power of self-image can be too great.