A new volume of stories from A. S. Byatt is always a joy, and this one is rich and rare indeed. In the same distinctive format as "The Matisse Stories" and "The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye," this collection deals with betrayal and loyalty, quests and longings, loneliness and passion -- the mysterious absences at the heart of the fullest lives. ...
A new volume of stories from A. S. Byatt is always a joy, and this one is rich and rare indeed. In the same distinctive format as "The Matisse Stories" and "The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye," this collection deals with betrayal and loyalty, quests and longings, loneliness and passion -- the mysterious absences at the heart of the fullest lives. A woman walks away from her previous existence and encounters an ice-blond stranger from a secretive world; a schoolgirl draws a blood-filled picture of the biblical heroine Jael; a swimming pool reveals a beauteous monster in its depths. The settings of "Elementals" range from the heat of Provence in summer to the cold forests of Scandinavia, from chalk-strewn classrooms to herb-scented hillsides, from suburban streets to rocky wilds. A marvelous present for all A. S. Byatt fans, this magical collection will also serve as a perfect introduction to one of our finest contemporary writers.
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Publishers Weekly, 1999-03-29 Brilliantly mingling reality with the surreal atmosphere of folktales and fairy tales, Byatt follows The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye with an equally virtuosic and beguiling collection. The subtitle is the key to the oppositions that inspire these six stories. They teem with contrasts between inexplicable compulsions and societal norms, the extremes of love and hate, the mysterious tension between the rational and the mystic, and between the creation of art and the demands of daily life. Byatt's meticulous control of language gives these narratives a visual and tactile dimension that's almost palpable. Permeated with descriptions of colors, temperatures and atmosphere, full of sensuous imagery, each is an immersion in a richly imagined world. A compulsion to flee from the reality of her husband's dead body sends the protagonist of "Crocodile Tears" to sun-drenched Nimes, where she meets a man from Norway who is researching folktales common to both regions. Slowly and agonizingly, each regains the ability to deal with loss. In "Cold," Fiammarosa, the princess of a mythical kingdom, can exist only in a frigid atmosphere, but she marries a prince from a desert realm where burning sand is spun into glass; the contrast?and the eventual mingling of the two polarities?is conveyed in passages of gorgeous description. The protagonists of most of these stories work in the creative arts or have strong ties to literature. (Interestingly, the central character of the one disappointing tale, "Baglady," a nightmarish scenario that lacks resolution, does not.) "The world is full of light and life, and the true crime is not to be interested in it," says a painter, one of the characters in "Christ in the House of Martha and Mary." Byatt conveys this conviction via an unfettered imagination, an intense lyricism combined with distilled and crystalline prose, and an astute grasp of the contradictory impulses of human nature. Six illustrations. Author tour. (May)
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