This is a novel that made me cringe time after time, and yet I am compelled to say I loved it (not as much as [b:The Virgin in the Garden|86888|The Virgin in the Garden|A.S. Byatt|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1399401834s/86888.jpg|245459], perhaps, and not as much as [b:Possession|41219|Possession|A.S. Byatt|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1391124124s/41219.jpg|2246190], but it still is very impressive).
Be warned: there's more of the authorial voice in this part, which may seem a little intrusive; there are the little lectures on plant life (Marius' new hobby), which may seem redundant, but are beautiful, too:
[The] English elm propagates itself underground, and was probably imported by Stone Age tribe who valued its suckering habit for fences. It might be thought a peculiarly happy tree, a self-sufficient tree, a kind of single eternity. The lack of variation among the clones, however, makes them peculiarly susceptible to the same disease. But in the 1955 was a sempiternal, essential part of our English landscape.
There are attempts at documenting not only lives, but also lifestyles - new esthetics, new food even - of mid-fifties (chapter 14!), and at times I read the novel with the same fascination with which I read my mother's collection of Ty i Ja
, Polish lifestyle magazine from the sixties, a treasure trove of intellectual, visual, sociological trends of the time:
There is The Uncomfortable. Byatt tests us from the very first pages, showing us misfortune and loss, sometimes describing them in cringeworthy beautiful phrases which nevertheless hit home. This is Daniel, looking at pregnant Stephanie taking care of a battered, bruised, burnt child:
[Seeing] Mary's shapelessness goblin-like straddling [Stephanie's] thick hips he wanted her and his child out of there, as though they were vulnerable to these most bizarre manifestations of the random and the destructive.
But there also is Stephanie herself, about to give birth, packing her hospital bag:
She hadn't packed her statutory suitcase: now she began: nightdress, hairbrush, toothbrush, soap, Wordsworth, War and Peace, Arabella, Friday's Child. If Wordsworth was not right, what was? She desperately added the Four Quartets.
(This reminds me how I packed the first volume of Ulysses
. Hint: don't. Also, you may consider not reading the book if you're pregnant.)
Byatt is unsparing when it comes to some of the embarrassing aspects of human life - brutality and births, stupidity and passivity, bodily functions and mysteries. Still, she handles the really sensitive issues (death, sexual abuse) in a sensitive manner.
Click here for my review of the first installment of The Frederica Quartet
series - [b:The Virgin in the Garden|86888|The Virgin in the Garden|A.S. Byatt|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1399401834s/86888.jpg|245459]: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/697176024