Wednesday, April 21, 2004

A.S. Byatt's Little Black Book

Prior to the A.S. Byatt lecture I went to Saturday night, I availed myself of her newest book, Little Black Book of Stories. I've read three of her novels, one of her nonfiction books and none of her short stories. If this book is any indication of what her short stories are like, I prefer the novels. The book has five stories two of which I liked (A Stone Woman, Raw Material), one of which I intensely disliked (Body Art), and two of which were just okay (The Thing in the Forest, The Pink Ribbon). Several of the stories had a fantastical element in them which I haven't run across in Byatt before. I wonder if it is something new she is trying? The fantastical element is particularly strong in "A Stone Woman," a story about a woman who begins to slowly turn into stone after the death of her mother. Rather than her stone body becoming a prison, it sets her free. Anyone who has ever been to a writing seminar will like "Raw Material." It is about a burnt out bestselling author who is teaching writing to perpetual students who can't write but believe that they can. When someone with real talent shows up the class is decidedly against her. The story I didn't like at all is well written, but it has a not unsubtle anti-abortion message alongside another message that says babies make everything okay. I couldn't bear the heavy handedness. By all means, if you are a Byatt fan, read the book. If you have never read Byatt before, start with something else, I wouldn't want this to put you off. It's not that the book is bad, it just isn't the best she's done. At least I got to go to a good lecture. There is an online chat with A.S. Byatt tomorrow at 1 ET. (via Maude Newton)