Review

A Plea for Eros

by Siri Hustvedt



What do essays on corsets, parenting, post-September 11th New York,
an obscure character actor, and Charles Dickens all have in common?
Not much really, but these disparate topics are brought together in
A PLEA FOR EROS, previously published essays by Siri
Hustvedt.

Hustvedt is best known as a novelist and is the author of WHAT I
LOVED and THE ENCHANTMENT OF LILY DAHL. Hustvedt's essays are very
writerly, usually exploring issues of identity or literary
concepts. Some are personal while others are more academic in
nature, but all are thoughtful and thought-provoking.

Hustvedt begins with a piece entitled "Yonder," which is one of the
more successful and readable essays in the book. She examines the
idea of place and memory and the shaping of family, individual and
community identity. This is very much a story about her Norwegian
family and how this background has shaped who she is. Readers are
introduced to her relatives, in this country and in Norway, to her
small hometown in Minnesota, and to the New York she chose as home
as an adult. Hustvedt begins by discussing the idea of "here and
there," and though she sometimes seems to move far from this theme
in the essays, she always does wind her way back to this concept
and how "here" and "there" play in our imaginations.

Several of the essays are about novels and authors and, more
broadly, literary themes explored by particular authors. Here,
readers unfamiliar with the texts or less than interested in
literary criticism may be bored, uninterested, or left in the
proverbial dust as Hustvedt dissects THE GREAT GATSBY and other
works. "The Bostonians: Personal and Interpersonal Words" is an
interesting look at a Henry James story, and "Charles Dickens and
the Morbid Fragment" explores the idea of death and the dead body
in the work of Dickens. These literary essays are, of course, not
personal in the way the others in the collection are, but
Hustvedt's deep appreciation of these authors and their works is
personal in its way.

The essay on Dickens is the longest and by far the best of the
three literary-themed pieces. While Hustvedt is focusing on OUR
MUTUAL FRIEND, she illuminates themes found in much of Dickens's
work such as the absent or abusive father figure, madness, and
self-identity (the "I"). Even readers unfamiliar with Dickens's
work may be interested in her analysis.

Although there is seemingly little unification in this collection,
Hustvedt brings her topics together by making them personal to her
and always coming around to the idea of identity or self. She
relies heavily on psychology in her examinations. A PLEA FOR EROS
is a mostly interesting and readable collection, but it has limited
appeal. It can be dense and wordy, and at times is an intellectual
exercise as opposed to entertainment. Hustvedt's style is elegant,
however, and her range of knowledge impressive. Recommended for
readers interested in essays closer to those of Susan Sontag than
Sarah Vowell.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 18, 2011

A Plea for Eros
by Siri Hustvedt

  • Publication Date: December 27, 2005
  • Genres: Essays
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 0312425538
  • ISBN-13: 9780312425531