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on 2 June 2006
If you've read Possession, you will recognise the first two stories, "The Glass Coffin" and "Gode's Story", from there. You will also understand the different meanings they have in these two contexts: whereas in Possession they are framed by the main story and signal female freedom and childbirth for the 19th century female protagonist, Christabel LaMotte, in this volume they stand alone, so you can further appreciate their postmodern writing and the way Byatt rewrites an old form into a quite modern one. You read the stories through a different lens, which makes their meaning quite different.

The story that gives the name to the book is a pure joy to read. In it, you find a female narratologist, Gillian Perholt (wink to the famous French fairy-tale writer Perrault), who is going through a midlife crisis sparkled by the fact that her husband has left her for a much younger woman. However,from storyteller in a conference in Turkey she will become the heroine of an Arabian fairy tale of her own, complete with a djinn (genie) in a nightingale's eye (a Venetian glass bottle)that will grant her three wishes: first she wishes for her body to be like it was when she last really liked it; then she wishes the genie would love her; and finally... you'll have to read it to find out. Both ancient and modern, spiced with references from A Thousand and One Nights and flavoured with Byatt's own recurrent leit-motifs such as the (apparent) dichotomy between ice and fire or the symbolic use of colours, this tale captures the texture of the Arabian story while creating a whole new world. Brilliant.

If you like traditional fairy stories, you will like these ones, although they may surprise you. If you like metamorphoseing old into new without losing the grip of neither world, you will positively delight in these stories. So...just read them!
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So far as I can tell, the Djinn story is the only original thing in this book. The other stories are lifted from her novels in truncated form, kind of pasted in to inflate the size into a book rather than the single story of the title; this is a bit cheap.

Nonetheless, the quality of the Djinn story is simply exceptional, a five-star performance that is perceptive, funny, hopeful, and sad. The protagonist is a middle-aged divorcee, whose entire life is displayed in a single magical instant that transforms her - but not her fate. The images are fabulously well drawn, unforgettable really, and will remain engraved in my memory for the rest of my life. Moreover, the subtlety of the encounter with the supernatural is full of delicious ambiguities and a peek into the fantastic that is one of the best I have ever encountered. I loved it, laughed, and felt wonder all at the same moment.

So I would warmly recommend this book, so long as the reader knows that the rest of it is somewhat disappointing.
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on 8 February 2013
I like Antonia, with her sensible voice, but I am at a loss to know who these parodic tales are for - surely not for children, with words like 'circumspect' (and the overuse of weaker words like 'beautiful') and 'the magic covers you have seen in your drawing-room' - she means those cloches that used to conceal wax fruit and stuffed humming-birds. The Power of Story? Purleese. Read an honest-to-goodness picture book instead (La Corona and the Tin Frog can't be beat); these self-indulgent exercises would be tedious at any age - though, as many who have been children will know, Wilde and much of Andersen fare little better. '[H]e must perforce push on..'
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on 17 May 2011
These stories may have arrived from different parts of her repertoire but, in bringing them together, A.S.Byatt has created something else. Individually, the earlier stories in the book seem slight cursory tales. But follow the thread into the final story and it all makes sense with an unlikely heroine whose life has qualified her to unravel the riddle of a classic fairy story. And it's very sexy. Left me on a high for quite a while.
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on 27 August 2013
"Djinn bottles, paperweights, snowdomes, domes with castles, glass coffins, are all scattered through the collection of stories. Dr Gillian Perholt, the hero in the tale who gives the collection its name says, "She liked glass, in general, for its paradoxical nature, translucent as water, heavy as stone, invisible as air, solid as earth". And: "oh glass, said Dr. Perholt to the two gentlemen, it is not possible, it is only a solid metaphor, it is a medium for seeing and a thing seen at the same time. It is what art is, said Dr. Perholt to the two men..". - this was written by Victoria Scholes on her craft-inspired reading list for Craft Finder, who chose the Djinn in the Nightinghale's Eye as her first choice. A great reading list for craft lovers - [...]
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on 9 October 2015
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on 16 October 2014
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