James Ley reviews 'Memories of the Future' by Siri Hustvedt

James Ley reviews 'Memories of the Future' by Siri Hustvedt

Memories of the Future

by Siri Hustvedt

Sceptre, $32.99 pb, 318 pp, 9781473694422

Siri Hustvedt’s latest novel, Memories of the Future, weaves together three distinct threads. The overarching narrative, set in the recent past, unfolds contemporaneously with the book’s composition. It consists of the reflections of a writer with the mysterious initials SH, who is in her early sixties and lives in Brooklyn. She spends her days tending to her elderly mother and marvelling at the clownish mendacity of the newly elected president. SH is prompted to reminisce about her younger self when she comes across an old journal of hers, written in the late 1970s when she had just arrived in New York from Minnesota, a naïve provincial filled with dreams of becoming a writer. Interleaved with the elder SH’s musings and the younger SH’s journal entries are extracts from the unfinished detective novel she was struggling to write.

This three-tiered structure reflects the novel’s preoccupation with the perennial themes of time, memory, and imagination. Hustvedt is fascinated with the fluidity of those related concepts, the way they seem to blur into one another. Again and again in Memories of the Future, the elder SH remarks upon time’s destabilising and estranging effects, its ability to magnify certain remembered details and obscure others, its transfiguration of life into a kind of fiction. ‘I have always believed,’ she declares, ‘that memory and imagination are a single faculty.’

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Published in May 2019, no. 411
James Ley

James Ley

James Ley is an essayist and literary critic who lives in Melbourne. A former Editor of Sydney Review of Books, he has been a regular contributor to ABR since 2003.