A Novelist’s Favorite Forgotten Novel

Siri Hustvedt is the author of four novels, a book of poetry, and a number of short stories and essays. She is the author of "The Blindfold" (1992), "The Enchantment of Lily Dahl" (1996), "What I Loved" (2003), and "The Sorrows of an American" (2008).

Hustvedt has had migraines and their accompanying auras since childhood and has long been fascinated by psychoanalysis, neurology, and psychiatry. In recent years, with the explosion of research on the brain, she has become increasingly absorbed by neuroscience. Her most recent book, "The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves" (2010), is a "neurological memoir," both a personal account of Hustvedt’s experience as a patient and an exploration of the ambiguities of diagnosis through the lenses of medical history, neurology, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and philosophy.
  • Transcript


Question: What’s your favorite “forgotten” novel?

Siri Hustvedt: Oh yeah.  Well, it's not entirely forgotten and for some people, you know, it's a very important book.  But it is a book that seems to sort of go underwater to come up a little and then fall again.  And it is Djuna Barnes’s "Nightwood."  This is a book that was published in the '30s.  It's a tiny little book; a dense, poetic little novel.  I think the current edition still has T.S. Eliot's introduction to it; a very enthusiastic one.  I have read this book now three times.  It is a remarkable little book about passion; sexual passion, also that is sort of living on the margins of a culture.  It takes place in Paris and it's a love story between two women.  And there is a character, a character that I love, whose name is Dr. Matthew O'Connor.  He's a transvestite kind of pseudo-doctor who gives some of the most wonderful speeches in literature.  And I, so when I have a chance, I do come out and say, if you haven't read Djuna Barnes’ "Nightwood"—I think it's the only book, by the way to recommend, by her.  I'm not so crazy about the rest of her work.  But this is a really extraordinary, unusual little book.  And it's not my absolutely favorite work of literature, but it's one that I think people should look at and read more.