Wednesday, May 18, 2011


by A. S. Byatt

At the urging of an English professor, I bought this novel in 1991. I tried to read it back then, but failed. Years later, I tried again, but to no avail.

This time, I told myself, I will read it. I will persevere. I will not give up on this novel, no matter what.

So, I read it. And, of course, I could see why I was unsuccessful in my past attempts: this novel is boring. And bloated. Oh, so bloated.

In a nutshell: Two young scholars, Roland Michell and Maud Bailey, accidentally discover the intersection of their scholarly interests. Roland studies the poetry of Randolph Henry Ash, and Maud devotes her scholarship to one of her ancestors, poetess Christabel La Motte. When Roland discovers a link between the two poets, he and Maud team up to further the scholarship in their respective fields.

The other part of our story is the tale of the two poets, Ash and La Motte. Through letters and diaries, our scholars discover that the poets were lovers.

Much of the novel concerns itself with establishing the poets’ relationship. Tons of dreary, wordy letters and horrid poetry will slow down even the most dedicated reader.

The payoff comes in the last 150 pages, which almost makes up for the first 400 pages. But not quite!


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