Sunday, 19 April 2009

Babel Tower by A S Byatt

DATE PUBLISHED: 1996 DATE READ: April 2009 NOTES: This is the third novel in the Frederica Quartet. It is now the 1960s and Frederica is married with a child and already missing her world of books, work and intelligent friends. When I wrote about The Virgin In The Garden I referred to Frederica as “obnoxious” and after Still Life I said she was “clever but irritating”. But now she has become a much more attractive character – likeable, questioning, thoughtful and passionately devoted to her son. The violent breakdown of her marriage and the subsequent divorce are both shockingly documented. But Babel Tower is much more than the story of one woman – it is a splendid evocation of the sixties. Byatt draws on things we remember so well – the music, clothes, furnishings, education and food of the time – but it also reminds us of the abusive divorce laws of the time and the ludicrous obscenity trials. There are many layers within the book including another novel Babbletower which is an Orwellian fantasy about a community seeking happiness but instead creating a cruel and wicked dystopia. I don’t usually warm to fantasy but Babbletower was gripping – as was the subsequent trial of its author for obscenity. There are observations on the meaning of words and text, on freedom and liberalism, on love and passion – and so much more….. Although challenging in parts it is a wonderful read. Although (I think) it would be better to read the earlier two books first Babel Tower can be seen as a stand alone novel. I look forward to A Whistling Woman and am already wondering if Agatha’s wonderful children’s story will be continued in it?

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