[I won't give a summary of the plot (google the books if you want to know more), just an excerpt and some thoughts.]
The Summer Without Men - Siri Hustvedt
"We must all allow ourselves the fantasy of projection from time to time, a chance to clothe ourselves in the imaginary gowns and tails of what has never been and never will be. This gives some polish to our tarnished lives, and sometimes we may choose one dream over another, and in the choosing find some respite from ordinary sadness. After all, we, none of us, can ever untangle the knot of fictions that make up that wobbly thing we call a self." (Hustvedt, Siri: The Summer Without Men, Sceptre, London 2011, p.188)
As with all her novels, this is so much more than the story it tells. It includes philosophical thought, literary criticism, a history of ideas of gender differences, poetry, e-mail correspondence, thought fragments, musings on art, evolutionary biology, drawings by Hustvedt, ... The time line gets shaken up occasionally and is interspersed with the narrator's meditations on writing her story. Hustvedt is brilliant at bringing alive intriguing fictional artworks. The themes are rejection, madness, death, bullying, love and art, and ultimately the self and the changes it undergoes, but despite the heavy subjects, the narrator never loses her sense of humour. A great read.
Tender is the Night - F. Scott Fitzgerald
"One writes of scars healed, a loose parallel to the pathology of the skin, but there is no such thing in the life of an individual. There are open wounds, shrunk sometimes to the size of a pin-prick but wounds still. The marks of suffering are more comparable to the loss of a finger, or of the sight of an eye. We may not miss them, either, for one minute in a year, but if we should there is nothing to be done about it." (Fitzgerald, F. Scott, Tender is the Night, Penguin Classics, London 2000, p.186)
I am a little bit obsessed with F. Scott (and Zelda!) Fitzgerald, but for some reason I only read this book - the last novel he completed - recently. It is about a young psychiatrist who marries one of his patients and is semi-autobiographical. His prose is so beautiful, often dream-like and lyrical and poignant, and he evokes the roaring twenties and the different settings perfectly. He also demonstrates great insight into the mind of a mentally ill person. I loved The Great Gatsby, but this novel is even better, in my opinion.
Finally, two non-fiction books I would highly recommend:
I am a sucker for essays, so I was very happy to receive Zadie Smith's Changing My Mind as a birthday present last year. I enjoyed her novel On Beauty (and have White Teeth on my to-read list), and it was interesting to read her thoughts on writing, on other writers, such as David Foster Wallace and E. M. Forster (On Beauty is a homage to the latter), as well as a whole range of other subjects (I love the juxtaposition of completely different topics, ranging from literary criticism to personal memories, in essay collections).
And, completely unrelated, this relatively new book on knitting is great, with lots of beautiful and easy projects, a nice layout and design and everything you need to know about knitting.
Purls of Wisdom by Jenny Lord