The Shaking Woman or a History of My Nerves
The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves
by Siri Hustvedt
Henry Holt and Co.
$23.00 List Price
At her father's funeral, Siri Hustvedt delivered a tearless eulogy. Two and a half years later, while giving a talk at St. Olaf College in honor of her father's work in the school's Norwegian Department, she began to shudder violently from the neck down. Of the episode, she writes, "I hadn't felt emotional. I had felt entirely calm and reasonable. Something seemed to have gone terribly wrong with me, but what exactly? I decided to go in search of the shaking woman."
This is the basis for Hustvedt's textbook-like memoir, The Shaking Woman or a History of My Nerves. A couple of pages after this mission statement, she writes of her migraines as an entirely separate malady: "I had become…[an] enormous headache." Despite the ease with which she becomes the headache, Hustvedt dutifully undertakes the research for the book as if it were literally necessary to identify the shaking woman. (How can it be so difficult to reason—and Hustvedt is nothing if not reasonable—that if you can be a headache, you can also be a shaking woman?) Foreshadowings of the fake discovery crowd the last few pages of the book, when she hires a psychiatrist and a neurologist (she resists psychoanalysis) and frets that neither can tell her who the shaking woman is. If either one were reading these pages, I suspect that each would say, as I would, "Same one as the headache." And in fact, the book's final sentence is "I am the shaking woman."
The purported mystery story is less a whodunit than Hustvedt's attempt to integrate a new, mysterious component of her identity into her existing self-concept. But