three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
12-Sept-Oct-2004
By: 
A.S. Byatt
user_rating: 
0
A-LittleBlackBookIn the world of A.S. Byatt, monsters lurk in the forests, crystals sprout from a woman’s skin, and even an innocent creative writing class takes a dark turn. The five tales in Little Black Book of Stories show off Byatt’s knowledge of trivia and her taste for fiction within fiction, but they also pack enough magic and menace to make the Brothers Grimm shiver. Whether she’s sending up bad student writing in "Raw Material," or describing a transformation from animal to mineral in "A Stone Woman," Byatt combines erudition with a taste for the bizarre and grotesque. If you’re so inclined, Little Black Book may teach you something about geology. If not, it’ll certainly give you a scare.
Alfred A. Knopf. 240 pages. $21.
ISBN: 1400041775

Seattle Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"There’s a cleanliness of line here, a seamlessness in the transitions from ordinary to extraordinary, that signals a new level of accomplishment for Byatt. There are also some savagely humorous twists that may take your breath away." Michael Upchurch

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"[Byatt] always entices more than she disconcerts, and it is difficult to imagine anyone else writing fiction whose sympathy for the emotional lives of her characters is so generous; whose scrutiny of the natural and supernatural world so focused and tender; whose intellect so broadly engaged with art, science and myth; whose passion to know—and convey—everything so resolute, so dignified, so suave." Margaria Fichtner

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"[Byatt] can’t help reminding us that she is far more erudite than most of us (for the fullest enjoyment of Little Black Book of Stories, keep volumes of Ovid and Virgil, of medieval British fairy tales and Icelandic myths, close at hand), but that really doesn’t matter: Byatt has the sheer narrative skill to raise the hairs on the back of your neck and make your pulse race." Claire Messud

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"The star of the collection is ‘A Stone Woman,’ a rich, moving story of transformation and redemption, and of those sacred places in the world where magic is still given room to exist. … [Q]uick to read but long in the remembering." Andria Spencer

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"For a writer so interested in the relationship between past and present, Byatt often displays a curious indifference to the idea of history. … If it is the best story in the collection, this is because ‘Body Art’ reveals effortlessly that science is also a version of magic, and that the modernity we live in may be the most disturbing of all Gothic narratives." Siddhartha Deb

Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"I know this collection is good and good for me, a sampler, if you will, of what fine writing should be. But—how dare I say this? —a little fine writing can go a long way." Carolyn See

Providence Journal 1.5 of 5 Stars
"... you’d be hard pressed to dig out the emotions from the avalanche of arcane knowledge with which Byatt smothers her plot lines." Kristin Latina

Critical Summary

Byatt’s readers fall into two camps. Some find her enthusiasm for minutiae in these Gothic tales infuriating–not everyone wants to read an extended description of the proper treatment of stoves. These detractors find this collection too smart for its own good, its many facts and metafictional digressions obstructing real emotion. Most readers, however, fell under Byatt’s spell. For all her book-learning, many agree that Byatt can spin a story that’s captivatingly scary—and perhaps more. Several praised these stories—"A Stone Woman" and "Body Art" in particular—as funny, poignant, and even uplifting. Byatt, award-winning author of Possession, may be only too willing to show off her knowledge of a variety of subjects. But for many, this knowledge only adds to her power.