I think a truly great book is one you can re-read and enjoy as much the second time as you did the first. I don’t re-read many books because there are so many new books to read. I feel I should spend my reading time reading new novels and biographies. Sometimes, it seems there is a dearth of new material and I flop around, fish out of water like, wanting a book that gave me the same expereince as such and such a book. It was during one of these unsettled in-between-a-good-book times I re-read ‘Possession’ by A.S. Byatt. It was every bit as satisfying as if reading it for the first time.
Byatt’s novels can be very challenging. I have to admit, I have not read all of them. I was stumped in ‘The Virgin in the Garden’ by the brilliant boy, Marcus, who sees what I can only assume is geometry, “He saw intersecting cones, stretching to infinity … he saw that he was at the, or a, point of intersection, and that if it could not pass through it would shatter the fragile frame to make a way.” Being able to see math or geometry in my head is certainly one of my deficiencies. I can barely add and subtract mentally and when I do, it never turns out well. When I was reading the passages concerning Marcus, my eyes crossed trying to imagine what this child was experiencing and because I was working on a masters at the time, I decided I would have to save the Frederica books for another summer, winter, whatever…
But I have read Byatt’s short stories and the two novellas in ‘Angels and Insects’ and I must say …ooo … they are very interesting and enjoyable in a voyeuristic, sometimes creepy kind of way. Those crazy Victorians! Imagine what they would do with the Internet! ‘Possession’ remains my favorite Byatt book.
She has written a new book and it sounds like she has returned to the novelistic form more similar to Possession than her more recent books. The reviews about ‘The Children’s Book’ appeal to my rampant Anglophilia. It takes as it’s subject the latter decades during the Victorian period leading up to World War I. This stretch of British history is the decisive period where many of our ideas concerning idyllic childhood came from. It was also the time when fairy tales became required childhood reading. It is a romantic time, but like so much of life, it had a seamy underbelly. I am torn between loving the romance and tradition it created and being enlightened and horrified by the untold secrets people kept. It is reminiscent of my love of fashion plates. The engravings are idealized renderings of the fashions of the time. The reality was actually muddy hems, ruined shoes and little variety in the average woman’s wardrobe. The women portrayed by the fashion plates were a minuscule percentage of the female population. I know this and while I am comforted by the ideal, intellectually I am fascinated by the reality.
The bottom line is – I must have this book! It will not be released in the U.S. until OCTOBER! I can’t wait that long, so I am ordering from Amazon UK today, here is a link if you would like to read it now as well. This is shaping up to be a great reading summer. So many books! So little time.