Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Angels & Insects

Author: A.S. Byatt

Published: 1992

What They Say: In these breathtaking novellas, A.S. Byatt returns to the territory she explored in Possession: the landscape of Victorian England, where science and spiritualism are both popular manias, and domestic decorum coexists with brutality and perversion. Angels and Insects is "delicate and confidently ironic.... Byatt perfectly blends laughter and sympathy [with] extraordinary sensuality"

What Elaine Says: I may have mentioned it previously but I love Byatt.  There are very few authors (living or dead) that even come close to having the command of language she has and far from being pretentious (which some claim) I believe she is an author that credits her reader with as much intelligence as she herself possesses. Both wonderful and ever rarer traits it seems. 

That being said, "Angels and Insects" just didn't deliver for me.  It's wonderfully written (of course) but it didn't quite enrapture me the way Byatt's other novels and short stories have.

There are two novellas within the book which explore, in turn, the Victorian fascination with the rather conflicting ideas of science and spiritualism.

The first novella "Morpho Eugenia" is a study of Victorian mores as well as faith.  It's interesting, beautiful in parts but for me there were far too many lengthy discussions about entomology (that would be the insect part of the book) and I found rather than adding to it, they distracted from the narrative.

The second, "The Conjugal Angel" I found much more interesting.  Tennyson's "In Memoriam" is the inspiration behind this tale of seances and  spiritualism.  It's a bit jumbled and a bit abstract yet rather compelling.  

If this was any other author I would be rushing out to buy their other works, however as it's Byatt it is rather unfairly measured by a different yard stick (also I already own almost every one of her books).  Unfortunately, I just didn't find this up to par. 

Byatt has conquered the novel form and more than mastered the short story form, perhaps novella is simply a form too many for this amazingly accomplished author.

Elaine's Rating: 7/10


“How beautiful all this is,” she said. “How lucky I always feel to live just here, of all the spots on the earth. To see the same flowers come out every spring in the meadows, and the same stream always running. I suppose it must seem a very bounded existence to you, with your experience of the world. But my roots go deep …”

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