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Writers: A.S. Byatt

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    One of those books that appealed to me more through its individual bits rather than it as a whole...

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    *Some tiny spoiler alerts, mostly character-based* [Warning] I have to admit that I'm feeling very ambivalent about this work at the moment...ideally, I should wait a couple days until my thoughts crystallize into a more coherent train of logical thought, but I'm hoping that putting down some of my conflicting thoughts will exorcise them from my brain in the meantime :0) The first work by A.S. Byatt that I've encountered (though I must say, I'm definitely open to reading more of her works in the future) and this book definitely engaged portions of my imagination...part of my initial interest was due to my love of Victoriana-related subjects and my interest in seeing how Byatt inserted these two fictional characters into the Victorian literary canon... Initially, Byatt struck me as an author who utilizes every bit of space to its maximum potential - in other words, if she purposely makes mention of a character, their personal history, the manner in which they think, etc., it...*Some tiny spoiler alerts, mostly character-based* [Warning] I have to admit that I'm feeling very ambivalent about this work at the moment...ideally, I should wait a couple days until my thoughts crystallize into a more coherent train of logical thought, but I'm hoping that putting down some of my conflicting thoughts will exorcise them from my brain in the meantime :0) The first work by A.S. Byatt that I've encountered (though I must say, I'm definitely open to reading more of her works in the future) and this book definitely engaged portions of my imagination...part of my initial interest was due to my love of Victoriana-related subjects and my interest in seeing how Byatt inserted these two fictional characters into the Victorian literary canon... Initially, Byatt struck me as an author who utilizes every bit of space to its maximum potential - in other words, if she purposely makes mention of a character, their personal history, the manner in which they think, etc., it will be for a reason...I think she is deliberately precise in her plotting and her character development (one could say almost excruciatingly so)... The downside for me was that I began to feel as though every single bit was fraught with meaning and that it was almost necessary for me to take notes on what I was reading in order to remember and comprehend everything within the story (I mean, come on...it can't ALL be symbolic, can it???)...Hence one of the reasons for my ambivalence - I enjoy when an author leads their reader on a merry chase, but Byatt's work was so circular and so self-reflective that you almost get lost among the labyrinthine passageways of her own imagination...this can be enjoyable, but not when the work overall tends to suffer as a result... In a book like this, the structure is built around two main story arcs - story #1 has already occurred and story #2 unfolds while its protagonists are uncovering story #1...Byatt strikes me as being uncertain which plot she was more interested in...as a result, the work is improperly balanced, with the shifts between centuries and characters happening in seemingly random fashion... I find both Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte (the poets that the contemporary characters, Roland and Maud, are researching) to be absolutely fascinating...their works and ideas are so intriguing that I wish they were real people, rather than fictional characters, b/c I would have loved to study them during my courses! As a reader, I was more interested in their story than in the trials and tribulations that Roland and Maud face, and the backstory between Ash and LaMotte seems to occupy more of Byatt's attention as well...she meticulously (and lovingly) describes the various nuances of their interactions and the particular minutaie that underlines their lives...though her attention to Roland and Maud seems as detailed in the beginning of the book, it quickly disintegrates as the plot progresses...the concluding circumstances of the story seem almost forced, and definitely do not unfold as naturally as earlier events... Byatt addresses an enormous number of themes, all centering around the idea of 'possession' and what it means to possess/be possessed by something (or someone)...Tied into this idea are interrelated power struggles, between genders, professional colleagues and even social classes...She explores the academic world (and its seemingly-inherent competitive in-fighting/bitchiness)... For me, the most interesting ideas stemmed from the discussions that Ash and LaMotte had revolving around religion, philosophy, mythology, science (and a whole plethora of other ideas)...I found the somewhat blindly-grasping nature of their inquiries and searches for 'truth' to be really fascinating and I almost could have wished that Byatt had focused her book solely upon these topics... I'm a bit uncertain as to the manner in which Byatt depicts her characters...at the risk of overt simplification, her women are all complicatedly paradoxical and her men appear nearly one-dimensional in contrast...since this is the first book I've read by Byatt, I have no clue as to whether this is her customary style (and would gladly appreciate it if someone could clear this up for me). On the other hand, perhaps Byatt meant to draw her characters thus, as a part of the overall impact of her story...for me, though, this element was troubling, especially considering how much of the book focused upon relationships, gender equality and the power inherent to the battle between the sexes (especially in the world of academia)...I won't break the story down into a character-by-character analysis, but I was left feeling conflicted about a great number of the characters and how to assess their motivations, thoughts and actions...perhaps the best example of this is Christabel LaMotte herself... There are several times throughout the book where Christabel LaMotte is referred to by her alter-ego of the fairy Melusine...this is an image that Byatt seems almost excessively fond of, as it perfectly encapsulates LaMotte while not helping in the least to define her...she is ever-shifting and eternally mutable...when described by her contemporaries, it is through ever-evolving language...even within her own letters, it is nearly impossible to know when she jests or when she is deadly serious...Though this elusive nature may be an important aspect of the character, after a time, I think it's safe to say that it is less of an inside peek into one of the main protagonists and more of an almost-voyeuristic insight into an author in love with her own conceit...and the worst part? I thought Melusine's story was fantastic! But there were only so many times that I wanted to hear about comparisons between LaMotte and Melusine, etc. etc., etc....For me, this repetition was not about making sure the reader grasped the concept, but more like driving your point home by bludgeoning you over the head with it repeatedly...I also disliked the fact that LaMotte seemed to be one type of character in our initial introduction to her, and then she devolves into this complete Victorian archetype - I can't quite articulate yet my thoughts about this, so will come back to it at a later point... A definite onion-layer book, and one which I will not only have to think about more fully but that I will probably return to at a later point in time... (more)

Average Book Rating

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