Verdict: A near perfect book.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Date read: April 15th, 2018
Published by Jonathan Cape, 2017 (First published 2009)
Bluets winds its way through depression, divinity, alcohol, and desire, visiting along the way with famous blue figures, including Joni Mitchell, Billie Holiday, Yves Klein, Leonard Cohen and Andy Warhol. While its narrator sets out to construct a sort of ‘pillow book’ about her lifelong obsession with the colour blue, she ends up facing down both the painful end of an affair and the grievous injury of a dear friend. The combination produces a raw, cerebral work devoted to the inextricability of pleasure and pain, and to the question of what role, if any, aesthetic beauty can play in times of great heartache or grief.
Much like Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse, Bluets has passed between lovers in the ecstasy of new love, and been pressed into the hands of the heartbroken. Visceral, learned, and acutely lucid, Bluets is a slim feat of literary innovation and grace, never before published in the UK.
This is the third book by Maggie Nelson I have read and my favourite so far. I admire her craft very much and thought this book near perfect. It is a collection of short thoughts, brief paragraphs that pack a punch, all losely structured around the colour blue.
Maggie Nelson, as always, unapologetically places herself in the center of her art; I adore that. This is an introspective book centered around the loss of a partner and grief and depression and the injury of a close friend and, yes, the colour blue. She talks about many things, in fragmented but poignant form. There are not many writers that I know of who can pull this disjointed form off, but Maggie Nelson can and her thoughts shine with an urgency that I could not escape.
She has a brilliant way with words. Her writing is both theoretical (drawing on Wittgenstein and Goethe and Warhol and many writers more) and visceral (her descriptions of sex are graphic and honest) in a way that I find mesmerizing and very difficult to describe. She mixes these two parts of her writing so effortlessly that it seems easy and like her sentences just flow out of her without further editing (and I am sure this is far from the truth). A near perfect book.
First sentence: “Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color.”