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The Little Black Book of Stories [Hardcover]

A. S. Byatt
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Nov 2003
This title contains five stories, which are funny, spooky, sparkling and sad. Two women walk into a forest, as they did when they were girls, confronting their childhood fears and memories. An innocent member of an evening class turns out to have her own decided views on how to use "raw material".


Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Chatto & Windus; First Impression edition (6 Nov 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0701173246
  • ISBN-13: 978-0701173241
  • Product Dimensions: 17.5 x 12.7 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,018,183 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

Review

Five new stories from the author of Possession, A Whistling Woman, Angels and Insects and many other celebrated novels. The word 'black' in the title draws attention not just to an attractive feature of the cover design (austere black books stand out well in a display with all their gaudy display of competing designs), but also to a darkening of thematic tone, a lowering of the lights, as Byatt places her characters in a dark wood, has them argue about death and body parts, and introduces a particularly unforgettable evening class. A new collection from one of our most distinguished writers and critics. A major event, of course, and the literary world will sit up and take notice.

Book Description

'The Little Black Book of Stories is a showcase of Byatt's talents - the ideal primer for anyone who has not yet discovered A. S. Byatt, and a delight for those who have' Daily Telegraph --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic! 11 Mar 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
In these five short stories Byatt once again displays her talent for making the magical out of the mundane. Byatt takes a simple cloth and embroiders it until she has a tale woven richly with mythology and allegory, and strung with references classical and modern, literary and popular. Her well-structured stories are deceptively simple. You close the book feeling satisfied but something draws you back. When you look again, the focus of the stories seem to have shifted slightly and the different facets become apparent.
In The Thing in the Forest we discover that when something terrible happens to us at a young age it can become both more real and less real than anything else in our lives. The memory of the thing begins to mould the person we become and continues to shape our actions as an adult until, for better or worse, it leads us back to the source of our terror. " 'Sometimes I think that thing finished me off,' said Penny to Primrose".
Body Art takes us to that crossroads where modern art meets the base realities of the human body and science has to contend with human emotion.
A Stone Woman is about grief and transformation: a beautifully crafted fairytale, vibrant with colour and texture, with a setting that moves from the landscape of the flesh to the landscape of Norse mythology.
"There was fresh blood on the forget-me-nots and primroses in the carpet. It was not nice." Raw Material is about words. Why do we consider some subjects more worthy of our creative attention than others? Should creative writing be therapeutic? And what precisely is 'Real writing'?
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5.0 out of 5 stars I utterly relished it! 29 Oct 2012
By Christopher H TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
I relished this book - it has been a first rate read. The five stories need to be treated as a unified entity, and read in sequence, as they lead the imagination into a very rich, superlatively crafted labyrinth of interweaving fable, symbolism, fantasy, folk tale, and good old fashioned story telling (the sort recounted to toddlers by indulgent and highly inventive grandmothers). Realise, too, that these are not adult versions of fairy tales - the work is more sophisticated.

Of course, readers will be captivated by the imagery in these fictional narratives. But you are also going to be surprised by the quality and originality of these pieces in wholly literary terms. The precise telling of the story, the wordcraft that has gone into the sentences and phrasing, is delicious (Byatt's fourth story directly stresses the importance of prose).

And there are the themes explored. Beyond the immediate motifs of childhood, maturity, aging, and so forth, Byatt sets one thinking about what it is to be "adult", what are the limits to conventional thinking?, and do things lies beyond the ordinary physical world? Even human mortality is queried in stories that show magic can be a metaphor for unexplainable processes. Byatt seems to agree with Hamlet, that "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of ..." Each story finds that something else is going on behind normality: appearances are utterly deceptive, as the men in the final two stories discover. And then there is the underlying pattern that has women acting as agents for transformation... but you need to read the stories for yourself to trace that thread.

Expect to keep mulling over the ideas raised within this book after you have put it down - it is a joy to read on every level.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lose yourself in Byatt's imagery 8 Aug 2005
Format:Paperback
Of the stories in this book, the best, in my opinion, is the Stone Woman. It is an odd, captivating story. Byatt's meticulous, evocative descriptions of the properties of different stones turns the disquieting image of the woman's transformation into something beautiful and strangely natural. This tale feels almost like folklore or a fairy tale by the end.
The other stories in this collection not as enchanting, although I would have happily bought this for the Stone Woman alone.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  24 reviews
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From dark to bizarre, to brilliant! 13 Aug 2004
By contessa malia - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There is an axiom that states "Don't judge a book by its cover." In this case, the black fading into charcoal gray dust jacket (with a flowering golden sprig) is a precursor of things to come. The stories are dark, somber and brilliant. Who else could construct a series of stories where grief, anger and abuse are manifested in such creative, innovative and bizarre ways?

A woman loses her mother. The relationship, while lightly touched upon, was probably an inseparable one (the daughter states, "She was the flesh of my flesh. I was the flesh of her flesh.") Post the mother's death, her daughter begins to turn to stone but not just any stone; she begins layer by layer to manifest the various exotic stones found in Iceland. They are veined, with complex glints of underlying colors and multiple hues.

Then there is an Icelandic sculptor who goes to enormous difficulty to bring her rigid, statue-like self back to the land of his ancestors. Was this all a metaphor for a woman who was experiencing grief? An unmarried woman, the reader might conjecture, who was faced with an enormous personal transformation without her mother? One who needed a sculptor to introduce her to the real and essential self whom she had not previously recognized?

The bizarre journey proceeds as the reader meets the members of a writing class, experiences the rich memories of its oldest class member, as she describes everyday life when running a household was much more labor intensive. There was the cast iron stove to be kept highly polished on a daily basis, the laundry that was to be boiled, stirred and immersed into multiple rinses. Then came the laborious ironing! The woman's writings depicted a gentle, hardworking woman, and an anachronism to other class members who tore her writings apart because of their being perceived as commonplace. Who is she really? The writing class teacher later discovers part of her mystery...much to his horror!

A pink ribbon is the only adornment of a woman whose very self is being lost to dementia. Through a "tarted up" ghost, the reader discovers her in retrospect. To say more is to spoil!

Byatt is a genius! The stories might seem just that ... short stories. It's the pondering and opportunities for analysis that the stories invite. There exist many possibilities for each of the characters, their lives, their challenges, their joys and obstacles. Byatt layers her challenges to the reader. On the surface, what were the stories about? But beneath the layers, what were the stories really about?
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To write like this! 26 Jun 2004
By Joanna Catherine Scott - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
To write like this, to really write like this, what power! These stories take hold of the mind like the great myths of the past. The sentences are crisp and clean, and simple in the way the best of all great writing is simple, with a simplicity that stirs to life the deep complexities of the subconscious. If I could write like this I would die happy.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Little" but strong 2 Jun 2004
By E. A Solinas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
British author A.S. Byatt reached her artistic pinnacle in the erudite, exquisite "Possession." But she's still in excellent form in "Little Black Book of Stories," a simple short story collection that embraces the tender, the macabre, and the fantastical, all wrapped in her lush prose.
"The Thing in the Forest" opens with a pair of young girls wandering in the woods -- only to come across a ghastly, inhuman monster. That monster haunts their memories as they grow up separately. "Body Art" tells of a obstetrician and his strange quasi-romantic relationship with a messed-up art student, which raises questions about birth, death and love.
"A Stone Woman" is born after surgery, when Ines finds that her body is slowly changing into a form of living stone. "Raw Material" takes a nasty twist, when a creative writing class, and a strange story, ends in murder. And "The Pink Ribbon" introduces James, an old man caring for his senile wife Mado... until a strange young woman with a connection to Mado comes into his life.
The thing that links the parts of "Book" together is the fantastical and horrific. "Body Art" is the one that doesn't fit in, since it's all solidly set in the real world; but the rest is a mass of Icelandic troll-women, ghosts of people who are still alive, and the Loathly Worm. Even "Raw" is a horror story, based on the evil that people can do.
Byatt's stories are beautifully self-contained, even if they don't always end on a completely conclusive note (the exception being "Thing," which feels unfinished). And her writing is still outstanding, flexible and versatile; she can write like a child or an intellectual, a writer or a scientist. She goes slightly overboard describing the various kinds of stone that the "Stone Woman" turns into, but that's a minor detail.
Richly-written and wonderfully evocative, "Little Black Book of Stories" is a rewarding if slightly flawed collection of Byatt's latest. An excellent way to pass a sunny afternoon.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stories about stories 3 Oct 2008
By Roger Brunyate - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Although billed as "fairy tales for grown-ups" like the author's earlier collection, THE DJINN IN THE NIGHTINGALE'S EYE, fantasy plays a major part in only one of the five longish stories in this book, and two are entirely realistic. But they are connected nonetheless by a strong sense of the fabulous, for all five are about the making of stories themselves, or the ways in which art is hewn out of life.

Sometimes literally so. The central story, "A Stone Woman," features a middle-aged woman who feels herself turning slowly into stone, and her friendship with an Icelandic sculptor engaged in the reverse process, of finding the life hidden in rocks and boulders. The woman's observation of her own transformation shows Byatt's writing at its most iridescent: "She saw dikes of dolerites, in graduated sills, now invading her inner arms. But it took weeks of patient watching before, by dint of glancing in rapid saccades, she surprised a bubble of rosy barite crystals, breaking through a vein of fluorspar, and opening into the form known as desert rose, bunched with the ore flowers of blue john."

Compare the simplicity with which the book opens: "There were once two little girls who saw, or believed they saw, a thing in a forest. The two little girls were evacuees, who had been sent away from the city by train, with a large number of other children. They all had their names attached to their coats with safety-pins, and they carried little bags or satchels, and the regulation gas-mask." As the simple details pile up, Byatt takes us back, not just into childhood, but the specific childhood of Londoners of our generation at the start of the Blitz. Rather at C. S. Lewis does at the start of THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE, she creates a context of dislocated reality, in which fabulous things can happen. Lewis's children grew up and had to leave Narnia behind, but Byatt's two schoolgirls are affected for the rest of their lives, though in different ways. One seeks refuge in objectivity and becomes a scientist, the other becomes a storyteller, but both feel a strong need to revisit this first magic at least once in later life.

In "Raw Material," a teacher of creative writing praises the work of an older student of extraordinary talent, but is ignorant of the real-life circumstances that give rise to it. In "The Pink Ribbon," the husband of a woman suffering from senile dementia (itself a form of story-making), receives a surprise visitor who persuades him to rewrite the narrative of his marriage from another perspective -- a situation not unlike the ending of Ian McEwan's ATONEMENT. And in "Body Art," a male gynecologist strikes up a friendship with a homeless art student who is creating Christmas decorations for his hospital. But what begins as an artistic debate gradually begins to invade real life, eventually taking a physical form that leaves both of them changed.

These are five varied stories that will amuse, challenge, move, and chill their readers by turns, leaving them above all with a sense of wonder at the mysterious human power of telling stories -- especially when the voice is that of such a master as A. S. Byatt.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not completely uninteresting, but... 25 Oct 2006
By Sarah J. Haynes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is my first foray into Ms. Byatt's work and I wanted something in short doses that I could read on the train on my way to work. However, I was also a bit disappointed. Her prose style is spare and austere and interesting for that reason. I must admit, I liked her writing style, which is probably the only thing about her stories that accounts for the adjective "eerie" in so many of the descriptions of these stories. But I must agree that further description of these stories as horror or "dark" is not so. They are contemplative and moody and occasionally thought-provoking, but not so much that I felt grabbed or hooked or even very much-compelled to keep turning the pages. And please do not dismiss my remarks as coming from someone who does not appreciate fine literature when she sees it. While I can't speak for others who did not like the book, for myself, I count The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, Les Miserables, Jane Eyre, Austen's works, Dicken's works, and others among my favorites, in addition to works by more modern and less 'classic' writers such as Douglas Coupland, Chuck Pahluniuk and Tom Robbins. If I were to put my finger on it, the stories attempt to conjure a depth of plot and of character that simply isn't there when all is said and done, and instead leaves you with a sense that it's all just a touch overly maudlin/melodramatically sappy to be taken seriously as a worthwhile read. Not for the reader interested in genuinely intellectually and/or emotionally stimulating reading.
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