TITLE: STILL LIFE
AUTHOR: A S Byatt
DATE PUBLISHED: 1985
DATE READ: May 2008
NOTES: The second in Byatt’s Frederica Quartet continues the story of the clever but irritating Frederica (though she has become much more sympathetic in this book). It is mostly set in the late 1950s with Frederica at Cambridge where she is working hard and has great ambition while at the same time sleeping with a range of men. She still loves Alexander but as he slips from the scene she transfers her affection to Raphael – a somewhat acetic don.
Stephanie has opted for a life of domesticity as Daniel’s wife and in the course of the book gives birth to two children while at the same time the household includes Daniel’s horrific mother and the still troubled Marcus. She still longs for time to read her beloved Wordsworth but this more often than not proves impossible. The hospital birth scenes are brilliant and really evoke the mores of the time.
Towards the end of the book the focus seems to switch north to Yorkshire again. A new university opens to which Marcus and his friend Jacqueline go as students and some of the tutors from Cambridge move.
Like The Virgin in the Garden this is a tough read, infused as it is with ideas on painting, the nature of language and philosophical ideas. But the story and characters are gripping and there are some really shocking episodes at the end – I look forward the next two in the series.
Although there were some definite endings in Still Life there were plenty of intriguing threads still to be followed up. Will Frederica marry Nigel? How will Daniel cope with his grief? Will Gideon’s transgressions ever be made public? Will Thomas and Elinor’s marriage survive? Will Bill’s anger ever subside?