Still Life is the second of A.S. Byatt's sequenced novels that begin with The Virgin In the Garden. The novel continues to chronicle the Potter clan in the late 1950s. Can you dive into the second without having read the first? Probably. In the early part of Still Life, Byatt provides just enough background to situate the characters. Of course, "just enough" will never be the same as reading the first novel.
Still Life reads differently from The Virgin in the Garden, the author less obssessed with moment-to-moment reporting through painstakingly-gathered details. It is more sprawling, emphasizing characters' growth over a wider span of time (relatively speaking). What hasn't changed is Byatt's love for and mastery of language, and concern for the life of the mind. The novel contains many passages where Byatt boldly, and almost intrusively, airs her provocative views on everything from writing, visual perception, love, to politics (i.e. delivered in the authorial first person instead of through a character's mouth or mind). But she is also an astute observer of the ordinary, whether depicting childbirth, adultery, or domestic vignettes. There's something for everyone here. The final section is a shocker. I finished the book not quite convinced that a freak accident belongs in a literary novel. All the same, be prepared to read some moving passages on grieving.