Lidija Haas at The Times Literary Supplement:
Not everyone translates what they read into images, a man once told Siri Hustvedt; “I just see the words”. More than once, Hustvedt has expressed something like compassionate horror at the thought of a person who does not experience reading visually, as a series of mental pictures. In Hustvedt’s books, seeing and being seen is fundamental to the self. Her novels are filled with visual artists whose works (often involving human figures) are carefully described. She makes use of studies on “mirror neurons” and how children develop via “visual communication” with their parents; as people, she often writes, this is how we are constructed, “made through the eyes” of others. The narrator of her third novel What I Loved(2003) speaks of art as relational in the same way, describing “the space between the viewer and the painting where the real action of all painting takes place – a picture becomes itself in the moment of being seen”. Even empathy, which Hustvedt has described as the ultimate imaginative act and “the true ground of fiction”, seems unusually visual in her account of it: she has written about having a condition (mirror-touch synaesthesia) that causes her to feel others’ pain almost directly – she experiences in her own body the suffering she sees in other people or on the movie screen.
Hustvedt frequently gives her interests and her reading on these subjects to characters in her fiction, but in her latest novel, The Blazing World, they are more than themes – they structure the whole book, serving as plot and propulsive force.