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A WHISTLING WOMAN.
by A. S. Byatt
ISBN 0701174110 / 9780701174118 / 0-7011-7411-0
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With A Whistling Woman, AS Byatt reaches the fourth and final instalment in her popular sequence of novels, after The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life and Babel Tower. It is now the summer of 1968. Newly divorced Frederica is living with Agatha and their children while pursuing a somewhat desultory affair with John Ottakar. But everything changes when John accepts a post at the University of North Yorkshire, while Frederica stumbles into a new career on television & A Whistling Woman is a busy, energetic novel, juggling its various plot strands--experimental scientists, psychiatric patients with nasty secrets, the upper echelons of university life--with the slick skill of a TV soap. Characters, familiar and new, are evoked with Byatt's customary easy vividness, but this time the exuberance is tempered by a noticeable sourness. One gets the distinct sense throughout the novel that by 1968 British society as we know it has started to spiral downhill. For Frederica, whereas "the carpet of the 50s was woven of many colours, in fine threads", the sixties were "like a fishing-net woven horribly loose and slack with only the odd very bright plastic object caught in its meshes, whilst everything else had rushed and flowed through, back into the undifferentiated ocean". Echoing Frederica's disillusion, Byatt's satire is more than usually acerbic towards various targets--in particular in her account of the newly politicised academy (which seems more a parody of 80s political correctness than of 60s activism). But for those dying to know what life brings to Frederica, then A Whistling Woman will be a welcome end to the years of waiting.--Alan Stewart [via]