Submission // Book Review: Bluets by Maggie Nelson

Bluets by Maggie Nelson

Published on 1st October, 2009 by Wave Books.

Reviewed by Adeeba S. // India

“Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color. Suppose I were to speak this as though it were a confession; suppose I shredded my napkin as we spoke. It began slowly. An appreciation, an affinity. Then, one day, it became more serious. Then (looking into an empty teacup, its bottom stained with thin brown excrement coiled into the shape of a sea horse) it became somehow personal.”

Maggie Nelson’s lyrical and often ambiguously poetic book starts off with her confession about falling in love with a color. Those lines are a first of 240 entries in her short book titled Bluets which delves into her fraught experiences of falling in love with the color blue slowly and gradually until it overwhelmed her every thought.

Bluets is a short philosophical introspection about what it means to immerse into a love that is inevitably doomed right from the start. Her obsession of the color blue influences her beliefs about love. Her obsession with blue makes her question if it’s the same color that has brought her peace and also wrecked her life. Her personal investigation into this mystery is interspersed with two main events in her life; the personal pain and suffering of her friend who is now a quadriplegic due to a horrible accident and the loss of love of the romantic nature that created an inconceivable vacancy inside her. Alongside, Nelson uses works and consults of various authors, artists and thinkers to support and sometimes contradict her understanding of love, loss and blue.

“Life is a train of moods like a string of beads and as we pass through them they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus. To find oneself trapped in any one bead, no matter what its hue, can be deadly.”

This is a book that blurs the lines between poetry, essay and even self-biography. It is sometimes a vague insight into a mind so full of emotions and a deeper than necessary intellectual understanding about what it means to be infatuated with a color when all else continuously fails and disappoints.

“Yesterday I picked up a speck of blue I had been eyeing for weeks on the ground outside my house and I found it to be a poison strip for termites. Noli mi tangere, it said, as some blues do. I left it on the ground.”

On a more personal note, Bluets sometimes feel like a vade mecum of sorts. I turn to it when I need to know that feeling a particular way is perfectly natural and I am not alone. In many parts of the book, Nelson has also questioned why she fell in love with blue and has said that she never did choose it. Just the same way you don’t choose to fall in love with someone. It made me question if love is something that is bound to be, inconsequential to your choosing to stay in or out of it. Whether love is only a helplessness, maybe, a sudden taking over of your life when you try not to expect it. I’d like to believe loss is somehow similar, as well and maybe even more intensely felt than love. After I read Bluets, I never looked at azure and shades of blue the same way again. It is fair to say, I never looked at any other color the same way, either. Bluets will leave you questioning yourself, the colors surrounding you, the colors that don’t exist, your favourite color, your lover’s favourite color, too (if it isn’t the same as yours, of course). For the most part, it will make you understand that channeling your loss into a color can heal you and help you make sense of most things, because even a little semblance, an understanding, a kind of coherence is sometimes all that we can ask for.


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