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Still Life [Paperback]

A.S. Byatt
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 24 1995
Frederica Potter, "doomed to be intelligent'' plunges into Cambridge Universty life greedy for knowledge, sex and love. In Yorkshire her sister Stephanie has abandoned academe for the cosy frustration of the family. Alexander Wedderburn, now in London, struggles to write a play about Van Gogh, whose art and tragic life give the novel its central Leitmotiv. In this sequel to The Virgin in the Garden, A.S Byatt illuminates the inevitable conflicts between ambition and domesticity, confinement and self-fulfilment, while providing a subtle yet incisive observation of intellectual and cultural life in England during the 1950s.

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From Library Journal

Still Life is the second volume of a te tralogy. The three Potter children, Stephanie, Frederika and Marcus, in troduced in The Virgin in the Garden ( LJ 2/15/79), continue in conflict with their Yorkshire roots. To them, and to the author, intellectual passions are as all-encompassing as emotional ties, and always at war with them. Frederika, whose novel this really is, escapes to Cambridge and the life of the mind, al beit not without constant struggle. Mar cus, after a long breakdown, manages to stay and function in Yorkshire. Stephanie, having opted for small-town family life, loses her fight to retain an independent intellectual existence and is horribly vanquished by the material world in the book's one tragic moment. This is an opaque, challenging, and re warding novel . While its intellectual preoccupations and allusions will not be readily accessible to a broad reading public, it belongs in major fiction col lections. Diana Vincent-Davis, New York Univ. Sch . of Law Lib.
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“A major novel…a marvellous and most unusual work.” -- Iris Murdoch

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complex and Visual Aug. 7 2001
This is a book that made me want to look at paintings. That statement probably won't make any sense to someone who has not read the parts of A.S. Byatt's writing that are so gloriously detailed and visual, but this made me want to go to museums and really really look at Impressionist paintings.
I should also, probably more helpfully, say that this is a grand story of an English family in the 1950s--ultimately quite sad, but very insightful and socially and personally conscious. You really love the characters in all their complexity by the end of this. One of the other reviewers commented on a section that dealt with pregnancy and birth in the national health system of England--ironically an experience my mother describes in very similar detail from her pregnancy with me. I also found that section deeply moving.
This is a sequal to The Virgin in the Garden, which is ambitious and harder to read. The characters here have grown and are much more sympathetic and human. You care very deeply for them.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Must for Byatt Fans! Feb. 1 2001
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.
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One thing I have to say about Byatt's books is that while I'm reading them, I do nothing else. Both this book and Possession were all-nighters for me. Still Life was fun for me because of the Van Gogh connection and seeing one of the characters fall hopelessly in love with a Cambridge don. But when it was all over, I felt empty. The ending is eerily sad, my favorite character remains ungrounded, other characters end up hanging out in strange places, and I ask myself, why bother? Having said all this, I don't hesitate recommending it to any past Byatt reader who wants more tale telling.
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