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Still Life [Paperback]

A S Byatt
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
Price: 6.29 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

18 May 1995

Frederica Potter, 'doomed to be intelligent', plunges into Cambridge University life greedy for knowledge, sex and love. In Yorkshire her sister Stephanie has abandoned academe for the cosy frustration of the family. Alexander Wedderburn, now in London, struggles to make a play about Van Gogh, whose art and tragic life give the novel its central leitmotiv.

In this sequel to her much praised The Virgin in the Garden, and the second in a magnificent quartet, A. S. Byatt illuminates the inevitable conflicts between ambition and domesticity, confinement and self-fulfillment, while providing a subtle yet incisive observation of the intellectual and cultural life in England during the 1950s.

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Still Life + The Virgin In The Garden + Babel Tower
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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (18 May 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099479915
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099479918
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 22,928 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


"Affords enormous and continuous pleasure" (Anita Brookner Evening Standard)

"Discursive and analytical but also full of arresting observations and sudden phrases of memorable beauty, arising from a meticulous denotation of people and things" (London Review of Books)

"Byatt is a wonderful writer, constantly engaging wherever she takes us" (The Times)

Book Description

'A major novel - a marvellous and most unusual work' Iris Murdoch

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Winter's Tale 10 Feb 2004
"Still Life" is shorter than either "The Virgin in the Garden" or "Babel Tower", but feels longer. I don't necessarily intend this as a criticism: this is, however, a darker and more contemplative book than its predecessor.
Byatt's superscription, a passage from Bede, is not only apposite but cuts to the heart of the matter. Imagine, says Bede, that you're dining with friends on a winter's evening (Christmas dinner, maybe?), when a sparrow flies in from the darkness, crosses the room and flies out again into the dark. Such is the life of man.
Where "The Virgin in the Garden" was all overheated summer, there is a wintry chill here: the book opens and closes with preparations for Christmas, but there is little festive cheer. Frederica has now left school and embarked on a colourful undergraduate career at Cambridge. Meanwhile, her sister Stephanie, who is just as bright but lacks Frederica's ferocity, is feeling increasingly trapped by pregnancy and motherhood. There is a new post-feminist edge here: the most memorable passages for me concerned the way Stephanie's horizons, and even her vocabulary, are constricted by her domestic set-up, even with a loving husband and family support. Motherhood is always about loss as well as gain.
The third strand running through the book is the life of Vincent Van Gogh, about whom Frederica's nearly-lover Alexander Wedderburn is writing a play. Van Gogh has become such a cultural icon that this could easily have become a bit maudlin (Dame Antonia leads us in a rousing chorus of "Starry Starry Night"?), but in fact the Van Gogh elements are handled with subtlety and allow Byatt to explore her fascination with visionary experiences and different ways of "seeing".
The unifying theme is one of loss: the book closes with a shockingly random death and its aftermath. Certainly darker than the other Frederica novels; but the characters are as vivid as ever, and linger in the reader's mind long after the book is shut.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Challenging, complex, yet very readable 30 Jun 1999
By A Customer
I must disagree with the reviewer who found it ultimately "empty," perhaps because my favorite character is different. Yes, it is sad. One of the main characters dies. I knew this was going to happen, but I still mourned for her; the death affected me more than any fictional character since Alcott's Beth. Odd, since there is nothing sentimental or cloying about Byatt's writing. I would recommend this book highly, although I think readers should start with the first in the series, _The Virgin in the Garden._
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
One thing I have to say about Byatt's books is that while I'm reading them, I do nothing else. Both this book and Possession were all-nighters for me. Still Life was fun for me because of the Van Gogh connection and seeing one of the characters fall hopelessly in love with a Cambridge don. But when it was all over, I felt empty. The ending is eerily sad, my favorite character remains ungrounded, other characters end up hanging out in strange places, and I ask myself, why bother? Having said all this, I don't hesitate recommending it to any past Byatt reader who wants more tale telling.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous descriptions, too much scholarly detail 28 Nov 2011
By Kate Hopkins TOP 500 REVIEWER
A.S. Byatt's second novel in the 'Frederica' tetralogy is both an easier and a tougher read than 'The Virgin in the Garden'. On the one hand, the tiresome Marcus has finally got himself sorted out (how he pulls himself together and begins to make proper friendships is one of the more interesting sections of the book), and the arrival of European culture to Great Britain in the mid-to-late 1950s leads to some wonderful descriptions of food and furnishings; in addition, there is some fascinating material about Vincent Van Gogh, the subject of Alexander Wedderburn's third play, and a 'painterly' style reigns over much of the text, as though Byatt is trying to bring Van Gogh's colour scheme and ideas on art into her writing. This works very well (just as the influence of Matisse did in her lovely 'Matisse' stories). Slightly calmer in tone - until the final section - and spread over a longer period than 'The Virgin in the Garden', 'Still Life' contains some wonderful writing about Stephanie's experiences of marriage and motherhood, Frederica's gradual transformation from aggressive adolescent to more vulnerable and more interesting young woman, about Daniel's parish (Gideon Farrar, the new vicar, who both manages to appear in certain respects a genuine man of God, and in others to clearly have sexual problems, being exaggeratedly promiscuous, is an interesting creation); about Provence and being an au pair; and about Cambridge in the 1950s - Frederica's group of friends are well-observed.

However, for me this novel had two faults. Firstly, Byatt can't resist the tendency (more pronounced in her later books) to lecture her reader.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Written 22 May 2010
By Loupop
I was introduced to A.S. Byatt through 'Possession' a number of years ago and I still remember the power of that novel and its ultimate descent into the realms of almost diabolical fantasy. This is a much quieter vehicle for the strength and extraordinary beauty of Byatt's writing. The setting is brought alive with such vivid clarity and the story is so perfectly paced that I found myself almost 'floating' through its narrative. I am certainly not an intellectual in any capacity and much of this therefore in terms of the academia 'passed me by' but it demonstrates the command of an excellent writer who is able to transcend the potential exclusivity of their work and produce a story which so perfectly brings alive the time period it is set in.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite author
I just love anything A S Byatt writes. Arrived in good condition and very quickly. Would recommend to anyone who enjoys good writing and a good story.
Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 stars Still Lifeless
There are times when, unable to come to terms with what one is reading, one asks oneself, 'Is it me or is it the book?'
In this case, reluctantly, I say 'It's the book'. Read more
Published 16 months ago by mr blue
2.0 out of 5 stars Maybe I'm not "intellectual" enough? Or am I just too demanding?
Still LifeI am ploughing my way through Still Life, telling myself that if this writer got a Booker prize there must be something worth discovering, but unfortunately I'm not there... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Thoughtful reader
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine evocation of the social and cultural landscape of 1950s...
Following on from The Virgin in the Garden, the second volume in the `Frederica Quartet' sees Frederica Potter having left the stifling provincialism of Blesford and headed off to... Read more
Published on 29 Jan 2009 by Trevor Coote
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, intriguing, masterful.
I loved this book. The characters are as complex and contradictory as real people. It's a challenging book -- Byatt never talks down to her readers. I highly recommend it.
Published on 22 Dec 1998
4.0 out of 5 stars feeling colours
Oh, Ms. Byatt, you are so fine. Your use of words for colours is truly sublime. (And, of course, the story's divine.)
Published on 25 Oct 1998
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