Shadow of the Sun Paperback – Aug 27 1992
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"A.S.Byatt's first novel, written in her early twenties, is simultaneously a rehearsal of the themes of her later fiction and a major work in its own right. Her concern with precise nuances of thought and feeling and their representation in prose is almost unparalleled in contemporary writing. The Shadow of the Sun is a tremendous achievement" -- DJ Taylor "In her very first novel, The Shadow of the Sun, A.S. Byatt showed herself to be that rarity, and English writer unafraid of the novel of ideas. Yet she is also the most sensuous of novelists - fictions made flesh are her passion" -- Christopher Hope "Byatt is a wonderful writer, constantly engaging wherever she takes us" The Times
About the Author
A. S. Byatt is famed for her short fiction, collected in Sugar and Other Stories, The Matisse Stories, and The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye. Her full-length novels include the Booker Prize-winning Possession and the trilogy sequence The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, and Babel Tower.
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Ann Severell is an untidy, unwashed, unbrushed seventeen, sulky and angst-ridden, whose father, Henry, is a famous novelist and generally considered a genius. She has never been able to escape the shadow he casts over everyone else, but especially (she believes) over her. People are always asking her questions about her father, not about herself. Anna is not unintelligent but is, naturally, an indifferent student, having been dismissed from her school after running away to York for several days, and having been unhappily and forlornly in love. Her younger brother, Jeremy, is just the opposite -- thoroughly social, determined to be liked, mannerly, polite, and always presentable. Which, of course, drives Anna crazy.
Oliver Canning, a critic and devoted admirer of Henry Severell's work, is priggish and moralistic, generally sure of himself and of his opinions and observations -- perhaps because he has bootstrapped himself up from a poor, working-class background. He's prone to telling others how they ought to live their own lives (for their own good), and this is how he approaches Anna's confusion about her life. Oliver can be a pain but he's an excellent teacher of adolescents and has a way of shaking Anna out of her moodiness. Margaret, Oliver's wife, is fragile in many ways. She loves her husband even though he treats her -- well, not badly, but indifferently. She sees Henry as her rescue, to Henry's dismay and Caroline's annoyance.
Anna's mother, Caroline, spends most of her time trying anxiously to protect Henry's solitude, his creativity. She has no idea what to do with her daughter, but maybe Oliver, who, with Margaret, has come for a visit to the Severell place in the country, can manage something. Maybe he can get her into Cambridge and out of Caroline's hair. Unfortunately for Anna, there's no reason, really, that she has to get out of the family. Their financial situation is such that she could just stay there in her little refuge of a hut in the garden and rot; her father certainly seems in no hurry to push her out and into a life of her own. So anything Anna does in the future will have to be because she really wants to do it.
Working through all these interlinked portraits and cross-purposed motivations takes the first half of the book. Then Anna finds herself at Cambridge, though she's rather listless about it. She goes to parties and gets mildly drunk and does just enough academic work to keep her tutors at bay. And after a year or two, she runs into Oliver again. And then things begin to get complicated. Some of what happens to them is clichéd -- you'll see it coming a mile away -- but Oliver's method of "helping" Anna figure out what she wants to do with her life (no, she still hasn't decided) by being cold and brutal in between fits of passion and intelligent conversation are certainly original.
None of the characters, even though they're very nicely drawn, is especially likeable. Except possibly Caroline, who just tries and tries. And I can't say I was happy with the ending; I didn't approve of Anna's choices, even though they are obviously not the end of her story. But even in this first outing, Byatt's use of the language can be quite extraordinary. She describes Henry's fits of intellectual activity, in which he is likely to leap up from the dinner table, leave the house, and go striding for hours in a straight line across the countryside, as "attacks of vision." In fact, her extended description of his progress is hypnotic. And she immediately follows this chapter with the reactions of his family and friends to his absence; Caroline thinks of these disappearances as "business trips," from which Henry will return with material for another novel. Beautiful stuff. If I had read the novel when it first appeared, I would have made a mental note to watch for Byatt's next book.
I suppose it is a rookie mistake to tell, not show. As I read, I began to dread pages of solid type, and look forward to those with short paragraphs and lots of quotation marks.
The story concerns the relationship of famous author Henry Severell and his teenage daughter Anna, and Anna's with Oliver Canning, a rather pompous critic and academic who torments Henry with unsolicited commentary and vaguely patronizing hero worship. Anna is both protective of and alienated from the overbearing, socially inept Henry, while Oliver regards her somewhat as Henry Higgins regarded Eliza Doolittle (in fact, the last scene of the book disturbingly evoked for me the last scene of My Fair Lady, and that's not a compliment…).
This was the first Byatt book I've ever read as I've decided to add her to the list as I make my chronological way through the English language literature of the 20th century (in fact, I almost missed her and had to mildly backtrack). Next up will be The Game from 1967. Hopefully, it will be heavier on drama and lighter on exposition.
Henry, after some coaxing from Caroline stops his work and pick up the quests at the train station. Margaret and Oliver Cannings with be the quests of honor for a couple of summer weeks. Henry is not pleased and neither is the daughter Anna. They both seem to view the guests as an inconvenience.
The story surrounds Anna, the daughter. She is at a very tender age and doesn’t quit know what to do with her life as yet. It has been said she lives in the shadow of her father and his writing career, feeling she may never live up to what she considers his high expectations. Does she stay at home, does she leave, does she continue her education at Cambridge where her father attended collage? Those who surround her are rather concerned and feel it is very vital for Anna to do something. The one most concerned besides her mother is Oliver. A strange and frightening relationship starts to develop between Oliver and Anna which will have consequences throughout the novel.
The descriptions of the home and especially the outside are beautiful throughout the novel.
The title of the book, The Shadow of the Sun, reminds me of the shadow side of one’s personality. The shadows have become broken and scattered about, the pieces are pieces of tragedies no one has dealt with.