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The Biographer's Taleby A S Byatt
Synopses & Reviews
From the Booker Prize-winning author of Possession comes this erotic, playful, and provocative novel about the collision of art and truth.
Phineas G. Nanson, a disillusioned post-graduate student, decides to leave his abstract studies and pursue a seemingly concrete task: to write a biography of a great biographer. But Phineas quickly discovers that facts can be unreliable and a "whole life" hard to define. As he tracks his subject from Africa to the Arctic, he comes to rely on two women one of whom may be the guide he needs out of his research and back into his own life. A tantalizing yarn of detection and desire, The Biographer?s Tale is a provocative look at "truth" in biography and our perennial quest for certainty.
"An intellectual romp that doubles as a detective story, Byatt's new novel finds her as imaginative, witty, and provocative as ever....[The plot] calls into question the whole issue of biographical accuracy and allows Byatt, who all along has been taking swipes at poststructural literary criticism, to introduce arch observations about the current fad of psychoanalytic biography....In addition to the theme of doubles and doppelgangers, Byatt's familiar preoccupation with insects, myths, spirits, metamorphoses, and sexuality all come into play. The book is an erudite joke carried off with verve and humor. American audiences may not be quite so patient as the British, however, in indulging Byatt's many tangents. This book will appeal to discriminating readers ready for intellectual stimulation." Publishers Weekly
"Byatt, a Booker Prize-winning novelist with a love for fantasy as well as philosophy, is also a scholar and a critic, and she slyly explores the interface between the imagined and the factual, the felt and the reasoned, in this merrily satiric tale about a hesitant young man in search of a fuller life....Byatt parlays her hero's awakening into a nimble and provocative pondering of our contradictory desires to belong and to be unique both as individuals and as a species wreaking havoc on the planet. Ardently literary, Byatt nonetheless reminds readers that life itself is what matters and that no work of art can come close to the sheer wonder of nature." Donna Seaman, Booklist
"A feast for the brain." The Denver Post
"One of Byatt?s most exuberant books." The Baltimore Sun
"The fragmented documents [Nanson finds] make up a sizable portion of the novel so that the reader, like Nanson, plays literary sleuth....While reminiscent of Byatt's dazzling Booker Prize-winning Possession which likewise follows scholarly quests that seek to make sense of past lives this novel is not nearly as satisfying. One never understands why Nanson is so impassioned by his subject; intellectual concerns overwhelm and displace the emotional and psychological lives of Byatt's characters; and the self-effacing Nanson never quite becomes a credible or absorbing presence. Byatt is a vibrant, daring, and curious intellect who writes passionately about the mind and evokes a sense of wonder at the complexities and patterns inherent in the natural world. However, her new novel is more irritating and confusing than it is intriguing." James Schiff, Book Magazine
"Elegant...witty...intelligent." The Washington Post
"An exhilarating fable that divides the house of letters into theorists, scholars and practitioners; its hero, a small but 'perfectly formed' scholar, is writing the life of a writer who wrote the life of a writer who wrote, or maybe intended to write or not, about Galton, Linnaeus and Ibsen." The New York Times Book Review, Summer Reading 2001 selection
"Exemplif[ies] Byatt's skill at combining the fantastic, the philosophical, and the all too down-to-earth....Through clever, lively prose, Byatt moves the action along briskly, treating the reader to numerous witty observations on contemporary academic and social mores along the way." Library Journal
From the award-winning author of Possession comes an ingenious novel about love and literary sleuthing: a dazzling fiction woven out of one mans search for fact.
Here is the story of Phineas G. Nanson, a disenchanted graduate student who decides to escape the world of postmodern literary theory and immerse himself in the messiness of “real life” by writing a biography of a great biographer. In a series of adventures that are by turns intellectual and comic, scientific and sensual, Phineas tracks his subject to the deserts of Africa and the maelstrom of the Arctic. Along the way he comes to rely on two women, one of whom may be the guide he needs out of the dizzying labyrinth of his research and back into his own life. A tantalizing yarn of detection and desire, The Biographers Tale is a provocative look at “truth” in biography and our perennial quest for certainty.
About the Author
A. S. Byatt's novels include Possession (winner of the Booker Prize in 1990) and the sequence The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, and Babel Tower. She has also written two novellas, published together as Angels and Insects, and four collections of shorter works, including The Matisse Stories and The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye. Educated at Cambridge, she was a senior lecturer in English at University College, London, before becoming a full-time writer in 1983. A distinguished critic as well as a novelist, she lives in London.
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