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Babel Tower [Paperback]

A S Byatt
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
Price: 9.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

3 April 1997
Babel Tower is the third novel in Byatt's highly acclaimed Frederica quartet. Frederica is embroiled in two law cases, twin strands of the Establishment's web: a painful divorce and custody suit and the prosecution of an 'obscene' book. Frederica's personal and legal crises mirror an age; alongside Frederica's intellectual life teaching at art school in London are the diverging cultural worlds of the Beatles and the advent of computer languages.

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Babel Tower + A Whistling Woman + Still Life
Price For All Three: 24.27

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Product details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (3 April 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099839407
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099839408
  • Product Dimensions: 4.7 x 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 337,622 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A.S. Byatt is internationally known as a novelist, short-story writer and critic. Her novels include Possession (winner of the Booker Prize in 1990), and the quartet of The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman, as well as The Shadow of the Sun, The Game and The Biographer's Tale. Her latest novel, The Children's Book, is shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2009. She is also the author of two novellas, published together as Angels and Insects, and four collections of stories, and has co-edited Memory: An Anthology.

Educated at York and Newnham College, Cambridge, she taught at the Central School of Art and Design, and was Senior Lecturer in English at University College, London, before becoming a full-time writer in 1983. She was appointed CBE in 1990 and DBE in 1999.

Product Description


"Frederica is one of the more interesting characters in contemporary fiction" (J.M.Coetzee New York Review of Books)

"A formidable feast of a book... A. S. Byatt can use her extraordinary mind to probe passional conflicts more hair-raisingly well than any thriller-writer" (Daily Telegraph)

"In this exuberant and vastly ambitious novel, A. S. Byatt has made both an intellectual chronicle and an intimate history... This book is about the life of art and the art of living, and its prose is charged with powerful images" (Harpers & Queen)

"A remarkable book, of exceptional gravity and serious charm... it balances an acute sense of the values of art and intellect with an imaginative sympathy. Its ambition is almost unique in the English novel" (Spectator)

"Tartly funny, emotionally engrossing and headily intelligent" (Sunday Times)

Book Description

'Tartly funny, emotionally engrossing and headily intelligent' Sunday Times

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Middlemarch" for the Sixties ? 11 Feb 2004
Byatt's style has been described as "postmodern Victorianism". This sounds a surreal phrase; but she does combine the tricksy literary gamesmanship of the postmodernists (stories within stories, self-referential narrative, occasional flash-forwards to the future) with a Victorian interest in intricacy of plot and characterisation. "Babel Tower" is a densely written tome of 600-plus pages, making extensive use of the story-within-a-story and riddled with Byatt's usual literary allusion; yet it reads like the tensest of thrillers. I stayed up all night reading it. For me, what makes the book so compelling is the utterly personal and visceral account of the violent breakdown of Frederica Potter's marriage to Nigel Reiver, and the traumas of her subsequent divorce. The reader will know Frederica from the previous two novels: cocky and fiercely intelligent. It is deeply shocking to find her, as the book opens, trapped by a domineering husband and his unmarried sisters in reluctant domesticity, isolated from her own friends, family and interests. If it can happen to her, it can happen to anyone. Frederica's escape, and subsequent divorce, have the intensity of a personal account and the pace of a thriller.
Interspersed with this are passages from the fictitious novel "Babbletower", the unlikely work of one of Frederica's acquaintances which becomes the subject of an obscenity trial when it is accepted for publication. It is a thoroughly nasty, "Lord of the Flies"-ish tale of the disintegration of a Utopian community, founded with high ideals of total personal freedom, into bullying and sexual sadism. The book's obscenity prosecution is intercut with Frederica's ongoing divorce proceedings, allowing Byatt to draw unexpected parallels.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This is the third book in a trilogy (the others being 'The Virgin in the Garden' and 'Still Life'. It is definitely the best of the three. It entwines two themes rooted in the 1960s (the emancipation of the heroine, Frederica and an inquiry into the teaching of English) with a fantasy story - the subject of a blasphemy trial in Frederica's world. It is perhaps a bit self-indulgent in places (such as where Frederica experiments with cutting up and rearranging texts) but is a fascinating insight into the 1960s for this reviewer who was born to late to experience them.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars England is about to swing 3 Oct 2009
By Eileen Shaw TOP 1000 REVIEWER
In this expository and intellectually demanding novel, A S Byatt has created something of a monster, theory-rich and deeply involved with the life of the mind. There are two stories alternating with one another. One is the story of Frederica, a clever Cambridge graduate who has succumbed to marriage with a businessman, Nigel, who caters for her sexually but otherwise expects her to become a shire wife in his sumptuous mansion, living with their small child Leo and his two much older sisters, plus live-in nanny. As the novel opens Frederica is beginning to realise she has made a terrible mistake. She always meant to do more with her restless and highly evolved intellect, but husband Nigel is determined to control her life. There is a large cast of characters, including lecturers, clergymen, educationalists and artists in these sections of the book.

The second story is a medieval tale of Culvert and the Lady Roseace who have gathered together a band of motley adherents and travelled deep into the countryside to found a new society which will be free from all inhibitions and the demands of the old order. It gradually emerges that this story is actually sections from a novel written by one of the characters of Frederica's story and when it is declared obscene we get chapter and verse of the trial.

We are at the beginning of the 60s, pre-feminism, but at a time when the old order was breaking down. The shock of the Christine Keeler affair has just rocked the political foundations of the country and England is about to swing towards the freedoms from class and privilege which seem to be available.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I have ever read. 11 Feb 2001
By A Customer
I've never written a review before. But this is the best book I have ever read: a gripping story, a literary masterpiece, and a moral analysis all in one. I can't do it justice - there's so much going on in the book, and all 3 times I've read it, I've started it and it's been like an addiction: I just have to find out what happens next. But it also gets you thinking and reflecting - about love, censorship, English teaching, and who we all were in the 1960s; the role of government...
Everyone I've bought it for has loved it - particularly anyone who has had a bit of exposure to literary theory, philosophy or political theory. I've read most of Byatt's other work and this is by far the most wideranging and thoughtful. It beats Posession for gripping plot, it beats The Biographer's Tale for thoughtfulness (and competes with it for a version of postmodernism), it beats Angels and Insects for twists, it beats Virgin in the Garden on everything.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Britain's greatest living writers
This book is excellent - I had previously lent my original copy to a friend who never returned it so this was just a replacement. It arrived on time and I have no complaints. Read more
Published 11 months ago by runaway
3.0 out of 5 stars A lecture course on the 1960s
Having loved 'The Virgin in the Garden' and 'Still Life', I can still remember picking up 'Babel Tower' with great excitement when it came out in 1994, after the Potter family had... Read more
Published on 29 Nov 2011 by Kate Hopkins
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinarily Good!
Absolutely mindblowing follow up to Virgin in the Garden and Still life! I can imagine picking all three books up again in the future for another read and I still have A Whistling... Read more
Published on 27 July 2010 by Loupop
1.0 out of 5 stars babel
Threw it down last night after 249 pages.What a waste of good reading time.Realised I couldn't care less what happened to any of the characters,reading in present tense is a... Read more
Published on 2 Nov 2009 by judy b
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant evocation of the sixties....
This is the third novel in the Frederica Quartet. It is now the 1960s and Frederica is married with a child and already missing her world of books, work and intelligent friends. Read more
Published on 19 April 2009 by Wynne Kelly
5.0 out of 5 stars A towering achievement
I really feel that this is A S Byatt's magnum opus, more expansive and more engrossing than Possession. Read more
Published on 29 Jan 2009 by Trevor Coote
5.0 out of 5 stars An erudite and entertaining read
I was amused to see another reader compare Byatt unfavourably with the likes of Iain Banks and Irvine Welsh because her work is 'of the past' and not 'relevant'(Relevant to whom, I... Read more
Published on 21 Aug 2006 by M. D. Smart
5.0 out of 5 stars The best of the series of four
The third of the Frederica Potter series of novels is by far the best. Fiendishly ambitious, knotted, segmented, difficult and demanding, only a writer of such skill could have... Read more
Published on 16 Dec 2003 by c westwood
1.0 out of 5 stars Awful
Took this on holiday but gave up on it after about 200 pages when my partner got fed up with me moaning about how bad it was! Read more
Published on 15 Jan 2001
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