Friday, 10 February 2012

Babel Tower

One of my top ten books is Possession by A. S. Byatt and so it stands to reason that I would like other books by the same author. I read Angels and Insects and wasn't blown away. I bought Babel Tower and it has sat on my bookshelf for ten years. Part of the reason I haven't read it is that it is a hardback and is 615 pages. The other part is that I was worried I wouldn't like it. Oh, how wrong I was.

On the surface it is the story of Frederica Potter, a woman who was a Cambridge graduate in the early 1960s, then her sister died and while she was grieving she married an inappropriate man. At the start of Babel Tower Frederica has a two year old and is realising that she made a mistake in her marriage. When she runs into an old friend it accelerates this realisation. The cracks in her marriage widen and her husband becomes extremely jealous and violent. After he hits her with an axe, she leaves and begins a life in London.

There Frederica renews old friendships and makes new ones, including one with the author of a book which is tried under the Obscenity Act. At the same time, Frederica starts divorce proceedings. What the book is really about is the terrible position and treatment of women in the 1960s and it is very feminist. It is also about the nature of art and about obscenity, morality and freedom of expression.

The quality of the writing is astonishing. It was so rich and complex without ever becoming florid. I wish I could write like this. On every page I was in awe. It is the third in a series of four and, of course, I haven't read any of the others but it easily stands on its own. Byatt is a literary writer who is gripping, tense and utterly absorbing. This was amazing and I could barely put it down. You should definitely read it.

2 comments:

DKoren said...

Hm! Should I put this or Possession on my to-read list first? I'm not familiar with this author at all, but after reading this review, I'd like to read these!

Victoria Snelling said...

I'd go with Possession first. It's slightly shorter and is still my favourite of the three I've read. Probably time I re-read it...