‘I’m not sure “like” is the right word,’ answers Iris Vegan, the narrator-protagonist of The Blindfold, when asked if she likes the German novella she is translating. Appraising The Blindfold itself, one is tempted to echo her judgement. Its qualities are the sort one admires rather than warms to: its style is cool and analytical, its architecture precise and its themes disquieting. Hustvedt, a Minnesotan, lives in New York, and the city, particularly downtown Manhattan, leaves its neurotic, soiled imprint all over the novel, her first. This is a New York shared with such as Mary Gaitskill and Hustvedt’s husband Paul Auster. Modernist themes – alienation, troubled identity, the irrational – are given contemporary trappings and fixed in the collapsing city.
The Blindfold consists of four stories, each an episode in the life of Vegan, a graduate student at Columbia University, and each revolving around her relationships with men. The first, Mr Morning, asks her to record on a cassette her impressions of a series of objects which, she discovers, belonged