A Whistling Woman (Hardcover)
New from the Booker Prize-winning author of Possession.
This electrifying new novel forms the triumphant conclusion to the great “Frederica quartet” depicting the forces in English life from the early 50s to 1970.
While Frederica -- the spirited heroine of Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, and Babel Tower -- falls almost by accident into a career in television in London, tumultuous events in her home county of Yorkshire threaten to change her life and those of the people she loves. In the late 1960s the world begins to split. Near the university, where the scientists Luk and Jacqueline are studying snails and neurons and the working of the brain, an “anti-university” springs up. On the high moors nearby, a gentle therapeutic community is taken over by a turbulent, charismatic leader. Visions of blood and flames, of mirrors and doubles, share the refracting energy of Frederica’s mosaic-like television shows. The languages of religion, myth and fairy-tale overlap with the terms of science and the new computer age. Darkness and light are in perpetual tension and the meaning of love itself seems to vanish; people flounder, often comically, to find their true sexual, intellectual and emotional identity.
The focus of these novels first widened from the old nuclear family to the experimental group and now narrows again to reveal the different, modern patterns of intimacy which emerged in these years. Through her wayward, lovingly drawn characters and breath-taking twists of plot, Byatt illuminates the effervescence of the 1960s -- both its excitements and its dangers -- as no one has done before. A Whistling Woman is the ultimate novel of ideas made flesh -- gloriously sensual, sexy and scary, bursting with ideas, contradictions, scientific discoveries, ethical conflicts, sly humour and wonderful humanity.
About the Author
A.S. Byatt, author of the Booker Prize-winning Possession, is internationally acclaimed as a novelist, short story writer and critic. Her most recent fiction outside this tetralogy is The Biographer’s Tale, a novel, and Elementals, a collection of short stories. She was created a Dame of the British Empire in 1999.
“Full of new energy and a sense of new directions…It is always tempting, with this novelist, to talk about the ideas or the observations, unfailingly rich and tantalizing. The superb mastery of it, however, is in what Arnold Bennett would have admired: the skill of the novelist with character, story, world. The plot has a driving ferocity, the huge and extraordinary cast marshaled with exceptional dexterity. The physical details are effortlessly redolent of the period, and exactly evocative of the individual psychology…This is a novel with grand, general interests, but the mastery over the particular never flags…This is a novel, a cycle of novels, a body of work for the rest of your life.” -- Philip Hensher, The Spectator
“A. S. Byatt has often been accused of intellectual over-egging, of a clever cleverness that overshadows plot and character. It’s a question of balance which every serious novelist attempting to write, in Byatt’s words, ‘about the life of the mind as well as of society and the relations between people’ must resolve. Possession achieved this brilliantly. Her new novel, A Whistling Woman, comes close too. In this concluding installment [of her quartet of novels], Byatt blends her own excitement at ‘intellectual curiosity of any kind’ with a lucid narrative and gripping plot…I suspect her fans will be hoping for a fifth.” –Kate Bingham, Independent
“Byatt’s intellectual adventure is full of energy and vitality…[with] solid delights, keen and demanding pleasure.” –Allan Massie, The Scotsman
“The comparison between George Eliot’s writing and that of Byatt has been frequently and justly made. Byatt’s four novels are complex, lively, muscular, moral and rather masculine books whose celebration of cleverness and strong feeling is intensely invigorating. I hope this isn’t really the last of them.” -- Jane Shilling, Evening Standard
“Byatt is unusual not in combining the roles of scholar and writer, but in insisting on their duality loudly, publicly and in the fabric of her fiction…At her best -- and this latest is among her best -- she is someone intimately acquainted with grief. She knows its violence and its faltering retreat. This, ultimately, is the grandeur of her novels.” -- Ruth Scurr, Times Literary Supplement
“The life of the mind and the confusions of the spirit confront one another to often telling effect in Byatt’s lavishly orchestrated eighth novel…A Whistling Woman excites and satisfies, because Byatt has learned from her idol Iris Murdoch the technique of creating characters whose obsessions appear to rise from deep within, and appropriate their rich, mysterious personalities…Byatt’s quartet is well worth the time and attention it demands.” -- Kirkus (starred review)
“The last in Byatt’s magnificent quartet of novels on intellectual life and thought in the 1950s and 1960s, A Whistling Woman can be read on its own. Rich in metaphor and glancing allusion, it is a tale of learning and anti-learning, sects and cults, the complex sexual relationships of humans and snails. [It is] predominantly a novel of ideas. Not about politics, foreign or domestic, but about philosophy, psychology and literature; the excitement of genetics and computer science edging towards their breakthroughs…pulling you along. It makes a fine conclusion to the quartet.” -- The Economist