TITLE: THE VIRGIN IN THE GARDEN
AUTHOR: A.S. Byatt
DATE PUBLISHED: 1978
DATE READ: February 2008
NOTES: This is the huge first part of The Frederica Quartet. It is set in 1950s and cleverly evokes life in suburban northern England. The Potters are a fairly horrific family – bullying father, subservient mother, obnoxious Frederica and troubled Marcus. Only Stephanie, the older sister, comes over as sympathetic. Most other characters are also flawed and tending to be vain, predatory, selfish – or just plain mad.
It doesn’t sound like a recipe for a great reading experience but we are soon pulled into the narrative. Will Alexander’s pageant be a success or a dramatic disaster? Surely Stephanie the atheist won’t marry Daniel (the somewhat dull church minister)? And to whom will the precocious and dislikeable Frederica lose her virginity?
The Virgin in the Garden is a challenging read in parts with many references to classical mythology. She writes with a terrifying mix of comic and cringe-worthy episodes – such as the descent into madness of Lucas and the attempted seduction of Frederica by Ed the travelling salesman.
A tough read in parts but it is worth the effort and I look forward to reading the next three books.