This is one of my favourite books. It is wonderfully complex and ambitious. The plot centres around the coming-of-age story of Frederica, a precocious teenager. However, instead of being in an environment where her intellectualism isn't valued, she is surrounded by both intellectual and sensual stimulation. Her family and their life are set against the background of national and local optimism and excitement at the time of Queen Elizabeth II's accession. Byatt's knowledge of the arts is formidable and the weaving together of the book's strands is both challenging and delightful for the reader.
I'm going to start a bookray. PM me with your shipping preferences at any time if you'd like to join and I'll add you to the list. The book will be sent to the first person during w/c 30 July 2007, and the list order may change at any time up until I send the book out to accommodate people's preferences.
Very slow waves between Scotland and Australia in the months of August, September, and October. But it finally turned up (only two weeks after I started panicking that I'd given Nell-Lu the wrong address or something). Its packaging was barely holding together - made me think someone borrowed it for a read on the long journey to the Antipodes, and then quickly repackaged it for me. Only I think it's far more likely that it just got bumped a bit on its travels. (Still, I like my version better.)
Anyhow, it's here now, I've got another bookring (or two) ahead of it, but I'll get onto it asap and get its journey properly started. Thanks, Nell-Lu!
Well, this one took me an age and a half to finish, didn't it! Christmas rather got in the way there, plus my (very annoying I'm sure) habit of reading other (lighter) books at the same time, plus a sudden need for reading glasses slowed me down somewhat. But I finished it last night. (And I have cat207's address, so it shall be popped straight in the post to her on Wednesday when I go back to work after my lovely summer holiday.)
Let's be up front with my complaints: while I probably didn't need to know all the classical allusions, I would have been happier if I had done so. (I am a completist, and like knowing everything. Okay, I am perpetually worried that if people realise I don't know something that they'll think I'm some sort of idiot. Which is silly, no one can know everything. Except maybe AS Byatt, who has a scary amount of knowledge.) I read sections of this on the bus with my phone on mobile internet, checking out names on Wikipedia.
I definitely need to know more about Elizabethan history (many lookups on Wikipedia again). Hell, I need to know more about English history!
And I found the bits with Marcus and Lucas dragged somewhat. I'm really just not interested in pseudo-science, and this was pseudo-science mixed with theology (which I am more interested in, but it's pretty low on the list, just above economics and cricket).
I don't mind a bit of extra education in my novels (hell, isn't that why we read? to learn stuff?), but I do prefer it if the author can work in explanations, a la Robertson Davies, Salman Rushdie, or even Neil Gaiman. This one left me swimming out of my depth a bit too often.
I do have to say I loved Possession and this one had a lot of the same hallmarks. But I obviously know far more about Victorian novelists than I do about 1950s playwrights. (I can "blame" my mum for that, she's fascinated by all the Victorian authors.) Made that book a fascinating and effortless read (but not easy).
BUT I thought Alexander was a fascinating literary creation, and adored the two sisters (Stephanie and Fredrica), and couldn't shut up about their family life (fascinating, the learned yelling that went on in that house), although I could have quite happily strangled Bill and I believe the world would have been a better place if I had done so.
Fredrica's shock at Stephanie's rejection of intellectual life for love was amazing, completely spot-on. (Can you tell I had an older sister who went for marriage and children, while I went for career? Although we're both doing the Supermum thing now, so everything evened out in the end.)
Mrs Thone was chilling, a reminder that life and love are precious. Such a perfect character, and yet one of the minor ones in this book, I think she only appears maybe three times. At her final appearance:
Mrs Thone stood and watched Winifred chilly. Pain hardens, and great pain hardens greatly, whatever the comforters say, and suffering does not enoble, though it may occasionally lend a certain rigid dignity of manner to the suffering frame. Winifred, to Mrs Thone, was simply a woman who had a son, and could, or would, do nothing for that son's trouble. Mrs Thone's son had died on a summer day, and in the winter Mrs Thone felt kinder to mothers of living sons who were less than wise and perfect. Today she watched bleak patches of sunlight and cloud-shadow on the school-lawn, rested a hand lightly on Pallas Athene's unnecessarily ample hips, and sipped tea, unbending.
And Anthea's final remarks are quite fascinating too, they reveal far more of the character than before, and it's as she's leaving!
And I recommend re-reading the prologue (I just did!) to see how it all fits back together again.
Once I relaxed about my lack of knowledge of details and got into the flow of the novel, it was also terribly amusing at times. I laughed tea out of my nose at this particular bit of dialogue between two impassioned lovers:
"'... What was I saying? Oh yes, if we were in a novel it would be most suspect and doomed to sit here drily discussing metre.' 'If we were in a novel they'd cut this dialogue because of artifice. You can have sex, in a novel, but not Racine's metre, however impassioned you may be about it.'"
I bet Byatt had great fun writing that bit of dialogue too.
Thanks so much, Nell-Lu for the chance to read this fascinating novel, and for putting up with its long stay with me. I promise it shall be in the post to cat207 at the earliest opportunity!
UPDATE 9 JAN 2007: In the post to cat207 today! Happy reading!
Why do I have to be the one to follow tqd's journal entry?
What a complex and convoluted story. I agree with tqd about Marcus and Lucas. And I thought Virginia Woolfe held the record for the longest sentences in a novel, but the 107 word sentence on page 505 is a doozy!
Off to kiroro in Singapore, in today's mail. Enjoy!
Journal Entry 9 by kiroro on Sunday, January 20, 2008
Just received it in today's mail! I am reading "A Man Lay Dead" by Ngaio Marsh right now and thought it was a coincidence that the author studied in Newnham College, same as one of the potential murderer suspects!
I am a slow reader and hope I can finish the book by 4 weeks. Thanks Nell, tqd and cat207 for sharing!
Journal Entry 10 by kiroro on Saturday, February 09, 2008
Didn't finish reading the book as I can't get used to the rambling style employed by the author which is descriptive but frustrating as it seems that the plot is not moving at all! Well, at least I have some idea about Byatt's style now.
Have sent out the book to lauraloo29 in today's mail. Should reach in two weeks' time.
Arrived today. Totally forgot this was on its way, despite the fact that lauraloo requested my address not so long ago. It looks rather daunting! (and I had to immediately go look for the LONG sentence on page 505, thanks to cat207's comment!) I've got a couple other rings prior to this one -- one long, one short -- so it may be a few weeks before I start on this one.
Phew! Difficult read for me, this one was. I haven't read anything quite this "heavy" in a long time. Having not previously read anything else by Byatt (I have Possesion on Mt. TBR), I guess I wasn't quite prepared for the writing style. Indeed -- long, descriptive sentences that went on and on and on. I appreciate good descriptive writing -- I do, but I can only take so much at a time, and thus it took me much longer than expected to get through this book. I found myself skimming through the longer descriptive paragraphs and concentrating my reading more on the dialogue. As for the storyline itself, I am still trying to figure out how I feel about it all. As previously mentioned by other readers, I didn't much care for the Marcus & Lucas plot -- that was a bit too "out there" for me and I'm having trouble figuring out how that added to the story. The ending was rather abrupt, I thought. I realize this novel is actually the first of a quartet, but it still didn't end at all as I expected. I also went back & read the prologue after finishing, thinking that it would make much more sense at that point. But even so, I didn't find it particularly enlightening then either. So all in all, mixed feelings about this. Not sure I can say I'm necessarily a fan of Byatt's writing, although I still would like to read Possession. I just may put it off for a little while longer.... :')
Thank you, Nell-Lu, for offering this as a ray. I've already gotten perryfran's mailing address & will send this out probably mid-week.
Received in today's mail. Thanks Nell-Lu for including me in this bookray and indygo88 for sending it on. This looks like a rather lengthy tome! I have a couple of other lengthy bookrings to read before this one but will try to get to it ASAP. When finished, I will make it available at the 1001 library.
Sorry this took so long to get around to, teaching got a bit hectic and I've been trying to catch up with everythig during the hols. I'm now half way through, asking for the next address so I can post it on Saturday
Journal Entry 22 by katrinat at -- Controlled Release, -- By post or by hand/ in person -- United Kingdom on Saturday, July 18, 2009
Released 9 yrs ago (7/18/2009 UTC) at -- Controlled Release, -- By post or by hand/ in person -- United Kingdom
I really enjoyed reading this novel. An unusual coming-of-age story mixed with A.S. Byatt's great knowledge and wit. I'm definitely going to look for the sequels because I want to know how the characters progress.
Thanks for sharing this book! It's on its way to nikel27 now.
This book took me ages to read as I just couldn't get into it. After finishing it I still can't say whether I enjoyed it as a whole or not. If it wasn't a 1001 book I probably wouldn't have finished it but it now brings my total to 190.
Thanks for sharing and I'll PM kiwiinengland and post it along as soon as possible xx
Journal Entry 32 by Danielle23 at Sunderland, Tyne and Wear United Kingdom on Monday, March 08, 2010
Released 8 yrs ago (3/8/2010 UTC) at Sunderland, Tyne and Wear United Kingdom
CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:
CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:
Off to kiwiinengland, the next in line. Hope you enjoy it xx
Book safely arrived in a wet and dreary Manchester. Today the national front are marching through town so there are heaps of police about. And tomorrow it's Manchester United vs Liverpool, so again an influx of police will appear.
And there ends the very local news.
Thanks for passing the book on everyone, I'll read it ASAP
This book is still safely with me, to be honest I'm a little daunted by it.
Journal Entry 35 by kiwiinengland at Dublin, Co. Dublin Ireland on Friday, June 04, 2010
I've read a third of the book and greatly enjoyed the lush depth of the writing. But I don't think I can read this as part of a book ray as I've had it three months and want to luxuriate in the story and not have a little "hurry and read me" nag at the back of my mind.
So I shall post it off to Australia to the next reader, and place it on my wishlist. I can see why this is a 1001 book.
Journal Entry 36 by kiwiinengland at Manchester, Greater Manchester United Kingdom on Friday, June 04, 2010
Released 8 yrs ago (6/5/2010 UTC) at Manchester, Greater Manchester United Kingdom
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Posted small package rate via Royal Mail to Australia.
Journal Entry 37 by fushmush at Sydney, New South Wales Australia on Tuesday, June 22, 2010
It has arrived. Thanks for sharing!
Journal Entry 38 by fushmush at Sydney, New South Wales Australia on Friday, August 27, 2010
Well, that took me foooooooooooooooorever to read. Life is busy with work and uni, so I don’t get the same amount of time to read as I used to do. This book wasn’t exactly an easy read either. I had to set myself little reading goals – 25 pages a day - to get through it.
Like others before me, I too enjoyed the Stephanie and Frederica storylines the best. I admit that I skim read some of the Marcus sections.
Did anyone else find the ending a bit abrupt? Am I being dense and not understanding it? Apparently this book is part of a series. I’m undecided as to whether I’ll pursue the others.
I’m so glad to be finally finished and be able to pass this one on.
Journal Entry 39 by fushmush at Sydney, New South Wales Australia on Wednesday, September 01, 2010
Released 8 yrs ago (9/1/2010 UTC) at Sydney, New South Wales Australia
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Sent to the next participant on the ray.
Journal Entry 40 by davemurray101 at Newcastle, New South Wales Australia on Thursday, September 02, 2010
Arrived today. Thanks to Fushmush and Perryfran. I'm moving house over the next couple of weeks. - but I will get to it as soon as I can.
Journal Entry 41 by davemurray101 at Valentine, New South Wales Australia on Friday, June 17, 2011
Finished reading Virgin in the garden. Story flowed really well although I thought it had a few character weaknesses. Thanks to everyone, re-donating to the 1001 library.
Journal Entry 42 by 1001-library at Helsinki, Uusimaa / Nyland Finland on Saturday, June 18, 2011