lunabee34: (reading by sallymn)
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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lunabee34: (reading by thelastgoodname)
Babel TowerBabel Tower by A.S. Byatt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book. I have loved each book in this series more than the previous book. Babel Tower was a quicker read for me than the others, I think because Frederica has a real, tangible problem rather than an existential one (although it is that as well). She's married a man who keeps her shut away in a country house; he won't let her visit her friends or work, and when she finally tries to do both those things, he turns violent. I never realized how difficult it was to obtain a divorce in England as late as the 60s. I just kept being astonished by how Frederica wants what seems absolutely normal to me--to work and be married and have a kid, to be allowed to exercise her intellectual abilities, to have autonomy and agency--but which is so hard won in the the time period in which she lives. Her realization that she loves her child deeply and fiercely while also being limited by him and resentful of the way he causes others to impose their expectations on her rings very, very true to me.

The other main plot point is the publication of a book and its subsequent trial for obscenity. I won't say too much on that because the identity of the author is a bit of a mystery at first, but it's very well done.

Very much looking forward to the final installment in this series.

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lunabee34: (reading by sallymn)
Still LifeStill Life by A.S. Byatt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It continues following Frederica Potter as she goes to Cambridge as well as the other members of her family. The backdrop of this novel is Alexander writing a play about Van Gogh, and it's full of excerpts of Van Gogh's letters and discussions of his paintings. I also love the way Elizabeth David is mentioned several times throughout this text; her cookbooks are such a joy to read, almost like novels themselves. Still Life deals with the fallout of the events of the first novel in a very satisfying way and leaves me eager to begin the next book in the series.

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lunabee34: (reading by tabaqui)
The Virgin in the GardenThe Virgin in the Garden by A.S. Byatt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really like this book, especially after being disappointed by The Game.

The novel follows the intertwining lives of the Potter family members and the people in their orbit. Bill Potter is a teacher at a boarding school; his wife is meek and cowed by his constant anger. Their son Marcus is dissociative, seeing the world in mathematical shapes and intersections of light that deeply frighten and threaten to obliterate him. Marcus is befriended by another teacher at the school who believes that Marcus is some kind of prophet with access to spiritual knowledge. The eldest Potter daughter is Stephanie; she embarks on a combative romance with a local clergyman Daniel. The younger Potter daughter is Frederica, and she marches all over the pages, falling in love with people who are entirely unsuitable for her and being pursued in her turn by the entirely unsuitable.

The backdrop of the novel is a play that Alexander (also a teacher at the boys' school) has written about The Virgin Queen Elizabeth that is debuting just as the current Queen Elizabeth is being crowned. Putting on the play takes up a great deal of the action of the plot.

The writing is dense and layered with tons of historical and literary allusions that are a sheer pleasure to sift through. I absolutely adore the way Byatt stacks clause upon clause, the way she revels in a list (I must as I tend to write that way in my fiction as well LOL).

I am genuinely interested in all the characters and what's going to happen to them. I have immediately begun the next book in the series.

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lunabee34: (reading by tabaqui)
The GameThe Game by A.S. Byatt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I bounced off this book hard, which surprised me. I love A. S. Byatt, and I love everything she's written that I've read. I've only bounced off one other book, and that's because I mistakenly picked up the third in a trilogy and started reading it while wondering what the hell was going on. Her writing is beautiful as always in this novel, but it is also a bit overwrought to me, and I find none of the characters sympathetic or very interesting, and I find all their emotional responses to be disproportionate to the events of their lives. I kept waiting for the reveal of some terrible, traumatic secret that could account for all their fear, anxiety and existential horror, but I waited in vain. I am disappointed.

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lunabee34: (Default)
1. I realized that I didn't leave enough outside the spoiler cut when I reviewed Hard by Wayne Hoffman. It's a novel about the gay community in NYC in the late 90s that would be right up a lot of y'all's alley.

2. I am overhauling my tags; I've been through almost all my existing tags and cleaned them up. Now I'm going to start at the beginning of my journal and make sure it's all tagged appropriately. I am giving myself permission to only do this on DW and not worry about LJ.

3. I read another book, Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A. S. Byatt. SPOILERS )

4. I just finished my first week as gluten free, and it's been a bit of a mixed bag. When I got home from NYC, I went through the pantry, fridge, and freezer and piled on the kitchen table all the gluten containing food. Some items were not clearly marked. If a quick google search could not tell me the gluten status of the product, I put it in the pile. I did not want to spend hours on the phone with the companies who manufacture all the random jars of spices in our cupboard. Next I added the plastic dishes and implements, tupperware, melamine bowls, all the cast iron and non stick, the colanders. cut for length )
lunabee34: (reading by thelastgoodname)
I never thought I'd live to see the day that finishing a book would be an accomplishment for me, voracious reader since childhood, but yes, it has become so (why must my anxiety manifest in such a stupid way?).

I just finished A. S. Byatt's Sugar and Other Stories, a lovely short story collection from 1992. I always like Byatt's writing, and this collection is no exception. I highly recommend it, and underneath the cut I'll post some short comments about each story.


I have already started reading another book (Yay!), so hopefully I'll have another reading post to make soon. :)
lunabee34: (reading by tabaqui)
1. Sarah Waters Tipping the Velvet
This was an exquisite read. I mean, Victorian lesbians. I don't need much more than that to get excited about a book, but there happens to be quite a bit more going on here. The language is so gorgeous and evocative, and Waters walks so well that thin line of writing in the voice of the period with all its slang and colloquialisms and leaving the reader going, "Do what now?" In fact, I think anyone writing a period piece would do well to emulate her style; she explains when she needs to with no Giles-in-the-library info dump and trusts her readers to figure most things out for themselves through context. I love love love love the focus on drag in this novel. It's complex and complicated and, yes, hot. Go read!!

2. Diana Gabaldon Outlander
I may have started reading this yesterday and then stayed up all night to finish it. I didn't even realize it was that late until I closed the book with a satisfied smile and saw that it was nearly four. LOL This is very engaging and fun and remarkably close to the trajectory of most of my own personal fantasies--through some magical or scientifically improbable device, Lorraine gets deposited into the world of X and must make friends and fend for herself. I love the premise here (that Claire is thrust backwards in time and must learn to live in 18the century Scotland) and must not allow myself to borrow the next books in the series or I'll never finish slogging through Tennyson.

3. A.S. Byatt The Children's Book
*flaily hands* What to say about this that isn't just garbled and incoherent noises of utter joy? From the wonderfully twisty narrative and the tales-within-a-tale that twine through to the commentary on historical events and issues of the end of the Victorian era to the sleekly beautiful turns of phrase--this is a must read for everybody. And the end! Which I mustn't say anything about! But the end!

4. Ludmilla Petrushevskaya There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby
This is a collection of Russian short stories that deal with the supernatural--ghosts, apocalypses, fairy tales, the afterlife. I fear that in some cases the stories suffer from translation and that my reading suffers from my lack of familiarity with Russian folklore, but overall I greatly enjoyed this collection. So many of the stories are incredibly haunting and the style is so spare and stripped down. I particularly enjoy the apocalypse ones, even more so for the ambiguity that surrounds each situation. Why is the world ending and by whose hands and what's really to be done about it? These stories are bleak, but with an almost ambivalent hope that keeps them from being too dark to enjoy.


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