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Babel Tower by A.S. Byatt Rich And Strange Babel Tower follows The Virgin in the Garden and Still Life in tracing Frederica Potter, a lover of books who reflects the authors life and times. It centers around two lawsuits: in one, Frederica -- a young intellectual who has married outside her social set -- is challenging her wealthy and violent husband for custody of their child; in the other, an unkempt but charismatic rebel is charged with having written an obscene book, a novel-within-a-novel about a small band of revolutionaries who attempt to set up an ideal community. And in the background, rebellion gain s a major toehold in the London of the Sixties, and society will never be the same. This is a long and difficult book for a reviewer to tangle with, and I can only do so by breaking it into parts. But, ere I do so, let me make one urgent and important comment for the prospective reader on this, the third book in Byatts Yorkshire Tetralogy: THE BOOK IS VERY DISTURBING. Those reviewers here who dismiss it as boring or what not are only exposing their own obtusity, in all sorts of ways. They are in fact demonstrating as true the T.S. Eliot quote from Burnt Norton here (p.482) that human kind cannot bear very much reality. - I, personally, would not trust someone who is not disturbed by this book - Because, as Ill come around to shortly, anyone who is not at first horrified then titillated then horrified at their own titillation in the spectacle of Lady Roseaces death in the book within the book here is simply not a sensitive or aware human being, aware of the cruelty latent in his/her sexuality, whether s/he likes it or not.----And we dont like it, generally. So on to Part 1.) The book Babbletower within Babel Tower. - This layering is what makes the book as a whole so thematically powerful. Yes, the character, Jude Masons, book is in part a rehash of how utopias become dystopias and part a commentary on the Sixties. But, primarily, as in the two previous novels in the tetralogy, its about human nature, particularly human nature as manifested in sexuality, a theme Byatt doggedly pursues throughout her works. And for Byatt, and for most of us when we consider it, the religious impulse is inextricably intertwined with the sexual. This observation is nothing new. All one has to do is read about the religious rites as practiced by the Ancient Greeks, for example. But its somehow different when one thinks of ones own religious or spiritual impulses in the modern world. As a church official puts it here: The Church has ALWAYS been about sex, dear, thats what the problem is. Religion has always been about sex. Mostly about denying sex and rooting it out, and people who are trained to deny something and root it out become obsessed with it, it becomes unnaturally monstrous... (p.25) Thus, Culverts discovery of the paintings of the suffering Christ in the tower marks the dawn of his awareness that there is a pleasure, a sexual pleasure, in cruelty. And this discovery leads, ultimately, to the monstrous way in which Lady Roseace is tortured and killed. At first I didnt make too much of this scene, too over the top I thought, but its difficult to get the imagery and disgust out of ones mind, where it dwells, and eventually one eventually finds oneself responding to it in a sexual manner, because really, of course, as Culvert intended, Roseaces execution is more about sex than death. The moment one undergoes a sexual response in oneself to this horrid imagery and comes to an awareness that part of one takes pleasure in it is the moment one realises what a bewildering and disorienting book this is. Like all literature, it stirs deep things other works leave to convention and causes one to rethink basic assumptions about what one is all about in this world. On to Part 2.) Frederica - I dont like her. I like her husband even less. But thats beside the point. The problem with not liking Frederica and her distrust of emotion and her way of trying to think through everything and put everything into laminations is that one realises that, to a great extent, the person one truly dislikes is Byatt. But it has to be said for Byatt that she (unlike Iris Murdoch, who draws a moral lesson from her own proclivities in her books and makes them intolerable reading, to me anyway) is fully aware of Fredericas, ahem, her own, shortcomings and shrewdly points them out, which makes Frederica bearable, if not exactly likeable. 3.) The book as a whole - Is too full of parody. The scene on the moors where Federica departs her dashing husband is straight out of Wuthering Heights, rescribed for the modern reader. And then parody breaks out all over: Modern poetry, contemporary education, English divorce law proceedings (before no-fault divorces were commonplace) and on and on. The saving grace here is that Byatt parodies her own parodies, making Fredericas laminations as much of a shipwreck as her life is at times here, thus making them and her palatable. What the none-too-subtly named Magog says in the trial about the Babbletower is more true of Babel Tower, that, it is a text that twists round and round itself like the snake around the tree. What IS its true message? p.586 One might well wonder. And go on wondering, for, despite certain reservations on my part, this is a rare book indeed, one not just to think and ponder over, but to W ONDER over. For More 5 Star Customer Reviews and Lowest Price: Babel Tower by A.S. Byatt - 5 Star Customer Reviews and Lowest Price!
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