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A. S. Byatt is the author of numerous novels, including A Whistling Woman and Possession, which was awarded the Booker Prize in 1990. She has also written two novellas, published together as Angels and Insects, four previous collections of shorter works, and several works of nonfiction. Educated at Cambridge, she was a senior lecturer in English at University College London. She lives in London.
Exiled from wartime London, two little girls think they see something monstrous in the forest, and when they meet again as middle-aged women (both slightly disdainful and slightly disappointed) they try to reconstruct the truth of their vision. A rather glum, self-righteous obstetrician, still struggling with the consequences of his lapsed Catholicism, encounters a waiflike young artist at his hospital and commences a quickie affair that lays bare just how different their values are. A novelist who hasn't amounted to much after his first success and now teaches a bargain-basement writing class encounters a much older woman who really can write. But when he goes to visit her after her first modest publishing success, he finds her horrifically murdered. Byatt demonstrates her formidable skill in this little collection of perfectly rendered pieces. The prose is arresting and memorable, the images linger, getting under your skin. But as a whole these stories are also a little cold-eyed and merciless. They are indeed "black," and some readers might even call them sour. For all literary collections, given Byatt's reputation, though this won't pull in as many readers as Possession. Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
From secret agonies to improper desires and the unthinkable, this slyly titled collection touches on more than a little bit of darkness. Booker Prize-winning author Byatt (Possession) masterfully fuses fantasy with realism in several of these stories, packing a punch with her sometimes witty, sometimes horrifying examinations of faith, art and memory. In the stunning "The Thing in the Wood," two young girls, Penny and Primrose, sent to the countryside during the WWII London blitz, confront the unconscious come to life as a monster ("its expression was neither wrath nor greed, but pure misery.... It was made of rank meat, and decaying vegetation"). They return in middle age to face the Thing again, but Penny, a psychotherapist, doesn't fare as well as Primrose, a children's storyteller. A lapsed Catholic gynecologist tries to rescue a starving artist in "Body Art," enacting what Byatt casts as the very obstructiveness of the Church he left behind. It's a chilling story that shines with grace. Byatt's modern-day fairy tale, "A Stone Woman," details a woman's metamorphosis from flesh to stone, which is both terrible and redemptive ("Jagged flakes of silica and nodes of basalt pushed her breasts upward and flourished under the fall of flesh"). In "Raw Material," a creative writing teacher finds inspiration in the work of an elderly student who comes to a gruesome end, the student's life and death imitating bad art very unlike her own. The haunting final story of the collection, "The Pink Ribbon," about a man who is more troubled by remembering than by forgetting as he cares for his Alzheimer's-addled wife, turns on the appearance of the ghost of the wife's former self. With an accomplished balance of quotidian detail and eloquent flights of imagination, Byatt has crafted a powerful new collection. Agent, Peter Matson. (May) Forecast: Gorgeously subdued jacket art, the coy title and Byatt's name should attract considerable browser traffic; expect sales to keep pace. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
"A delight. . . . Byatt's stories are provoking and alarming, richly yet tautly rendered. . . .[She] has the sheer narrative skill to raise the hairs on the back of your neck and make your pulse race." -The New York Times Book Review "Bewitching . . . immensely readable, fiercely intelligent, and studded with astonishing, refracting images. . . . A virtuoso performance by a master storyteller." -Los Angeles Times Book Review "Supremely elegant. . . . Byatt peels back the surface of everyday life-and what she reveals may disturb your sleep." -Entertainment Weekly "Striking . . . marvelous . . . impressive. . . . Byatt's Gothic touch transforms commonplace English settings and characters into unsettling zones of loss and fear." -The Boston Globe "A storyteller who could keep a sultan on the edge of his throne for a thousand and one nights." -The New York Times Book Review "Scrumptious . . . these are raw, tough, disruptive stories about memory, duty, madness, guilt, cruelty and loss, stories that grope and reel, that throb with secret longings, secret histories, artistic yearnings and the thrashes and groans of a stinking damnation in the underbrush."-Miami Herald "Her finest collection yet. . . . Bleak then surprisingly funny, very dark indeed then full of inconceivable sources of light." -The Guardian "Beautifully crafted. . . [Little Black Book of Stories] prods at the tender points where art, pain, and desire intersect." -The Financial Times "A potent alchemy of magic, horror and sensual delight." -Elle "Captivating . . . disturbing yet funny . . . an utterly compelling read." -Harper's Bazaar "A delightful surprise. . . . A heady infusion of mythology and everyday life, with a strong undercurrent of horror. . . . Moving, thought-provoking, witty, and shocking all at once." -The Sunday Telegraph "Haunting . . . Astonishing . . . Vivid . . . Moving . . . [Byatt] is an athlete of the imagination, breaking barriers without apparent effort." -The Nation "A sophisticated and powerfully realized work. . . . A bravura performance of imaginative artistry." -The Times Literary Supplement