LIFE AND STYLE
Siri Hustvedt: ‘Perhaps I could time travel as a man or a ghost’
The novelist on going back in time, bringing back mourning clothes and how she would edit the past
Saturday 19 August 2017 09.30 BST
orn in Minnesota, Siri Hustvedt, 62, has a PhD from Columbia University. Having published her first novel, The Blindfold, in 1992, she went on to write several novels including What I Loved, The Summer Without Men and The Blazing World, which was longlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2014. Her latest book is A Woman Looking At Men Looking at Women: Essays On Art, Sex And The Mind. She is married to Paul Auster, with whom she has a daughter, and lives in New York.
|Siri Hustvedt: ‘The writer who has a favourite word is in trouble.’ |
Photograph: Tim Knox for the Guardian
When were you happiest?
I have a penchant for happiness. I have experienced euphoria before a migraine, which may not count, but I have also felt immense happiness leaning back in a chair in sunlight, puttering in my garden, reading, dancing, immediately after giving birth and when writing.
What is your greatest fear?
I’m afraid I will die before I finish whatever book I am working on.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Pride, the deadliest sin.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
I cannot bear the person who cannot listen. It is distressingly common after lectures for people to ask questions (or worse, make comments) that make it clear they heard absolutely nothing.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
Years ago, I was invited to an elegant dinner party in New York. I didn’t know the hosts well, and I was going to meet my husband at the apartment. A handsome man opened the door. I shook his hand and introduced myself. He looked embarrassed. The people watching me enter looked embarrassed. I was embarrassed. I think he was the butler.
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
No 62-year-old person should be asked to choose.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
“Reader, I married him.”
Which living person do you most despise and why?
Donald Trump. I am still reeling from the fact that we Americans have an ignorant, vicious, vulgar, narcissistic, racist, woman-hating, xenophobic buffoon as president.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
The three James siblings: William, Henry and Alice.
If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose?
Mourning clothes. I think grief deserves an outward sign.
Who would play you in the film of your life?
I’d take Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck or Bette Davis. We are in the realm of pure fantasy, after all.
What makes you unhappy?
What is your most unappealing habit?
My husband would say I never turn off lights, and leave doors ajar.
What is your favourite word?
The writer who has a favourite word is in trouble.
Which book changed your life?
After I read David Copperfield at 13, I decided to become a writer.
What is the worst thing anyone’s said to you?
“I have breast cancer.” My mother was in her early 50s. She survived, but I didn’t know that she would. She is now 94.
To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?
The man who asked me directions on the subway seven years ago: I am so sorry for sending you to Queens rather than to the Bronx.
What is the worst job you’ve done?
I was a floor model briefly at Bloomingdale’s in New York in 1979. I hated it. When no one was watching, I would lock myself in the toilet and read.
If you could edit your past, what would you change?
I would have articulated aloud the comments I too often suppressed out of deference to arrogant, condescending, sexist bores.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
It is sad but true that to send any woman back in time more than 100 years would strip her of suffrage and reduce her to marital property in most countries. And yet I am fascinated by the intellectual and artistic climates of the late 19th and early 20th century in America and Europe. Perhaps I could do my time travelling as a man or a ghost.
How often do you have sex?
Do people actually answer this question? And if they do, do you believe them?
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
The Blazing World.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
A single perspective is not enough.
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