lunabee34: (reading by sallymn)
[personal profile] lunabee34
A Whistling WomanA Whistling Woman by A.S. Byatt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


What a fantastic conclusion to this series of books. I remain in awe of Byatt's skill as a writer. The previous books are bookended with glimpses into the future and then settle into a narrative that happened in the past. This book doesn't begin that way, and the reader slowly realizes that this book is taking place in the future that starts and ends the previous three; there's a wonderful moment where Byatt takes you full-circle back to the very beginning book and shows you a moment happening in that future scene from a different perspective. So very well done and makes me believe she had all four books plotted out before she ever put pen to paper for the first.

Again, way too much child harm in this book for my tastes; fortunately, it was not belabored, but still. Too much. If I wasn't already way too invested in this series not to finish it, I would have had serious reservations about doing so.

There's an element of repressed violence throughout the whole thing. Some of the characters have gone to live in what amounts to a religious cult, and the narrative is clearly building to some terrible end. I love that feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop and wondering exactly what form the terror will take.

The novel is set against the backdrop of the late sixties with students protesting everything from war to institutions of education themselves. It manages to acknowledge the ways in which these protests are ridiculous and meaningless exercises as well as the ways in which they are reasoned arguments for needed change. Byatt also touches on an issue very pertinent today: who should be allowed to speak on a college campus? Should students be able to silence voices with which they disagree?

I absolutely adore that Byatt ends the novel exactly the way she ends Agatha's novel that she reads aloud to Leo and Saskia: right in the thick of things, en medias res, with no true conclusion and everything up in the air, which is as it should be. I don't want Frederica to be neatly concluded with all the threads tied off. That ending is a brilliant piece of craftsmanship.

I highly recommend the Potter Quartet. I want to write like A.S. Byatt when I grow up, but in the interim, I'll settle for reading the original. :)



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