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The Biographer's Tale


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How can you describe a 'whole life'? Booker Prize-winner A. S. Byatt conjures a sparking, colour-filled novel about one man's attempt to do so.

Promotional Information

How can you describe a 'whole life'? Booker Prize-winner A. S. Byatt conjures a sparking, colour-filled novel about one man's attempt to do so.

About the Author

A.S. Byatt is internationally known for her novels and short stories. Her novels include Possession, and the quartet, The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman, and her highly acclaimed collections of short stories include Sugar and Other Stories, The Matisse Stories, The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye, Elementals and The Little Black Book of Stories.


While The Biographer's Tale seems a natural choice for an audiobook, displaying as it does its author's fascination with words, sounds, and sentence structure, conversely it is a difficult book to listen to because of the multitude of literary and historical allusions, complex ideas, and fact and fiction that speed by. Simon Prebble reads extremely well, using accents, mostly British and Scandinavian, timbre, and pacing to alert people to the changes in viewpoint. He alternates between modern and Victorian characters and deepens his voice for the serious Victorian discourse. Then Prebble raises his pitch for the more comic occurrences of the present century, as the biographer's tale turns into the autobiography of an unfocused young man who tries to find the simple life as exemplified by facts and the search for them, for organization, and, thus, for meaning, and finally realizes that facts and organization are not necessarily enlightening. A good choice for collections that serve an intellectual and literary public. Juleigh Muirhead Clark, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Lib., Colonial Williamsburg Fdn., VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

"This novel takes the reader somewhere rare and high" Financial Times "A voluptuous tale" Sunday Times "Awesome" Daily Mail "The relation of language to things, the arrangement of those things in the world, and exposure of the tricks of literary composition are not just occasional intruders in this novel, they are its very subject" Times Literary Review

An intellectual romp that doubles as a detective story, Byatt's new novel finds her as imaginative, witty and provocative as ever. A postgraduate at a nameless English university, narrator Phineas G. Nanson decides to abandon his studies as a poststructuralist literary critic to become a biographer instead. He chooses as his subject one Scholes Destry-Scholes, who himself was a biographer of genius. Destry-Scholes's magnum opus was a biography of the Victorian polymath Sir Elmer Bole, a famous explorer, soldier, diplomat, scientist, travel writer, novelist and poetÄin short, almost a caricature of a certain British type. As Nanson searches for clues to Destry-Scholes's life, the novel acquires layers of complexity. Nanson finds fragments written by Destry-Scholes about three men: Carl Linnaeus, Francis Galton and Henrik Ibsen. Like Nanson, the reader realizes the identity of these figures only gradually, for the fragments are oblique and mystifying. To his dismay, Nanson discovers that the revered Destry-Scholes has taken great liberties with the facts, inventing false incidents and inserting imaginary details. This calls into question the whole issue of biographical accuracy and allows Byatt, who all along has been taking swipes at poststructural literary criticism, to introduce arch observations about the current fad of psychoanalytic biography. The plot broadens when Nanson falls in love with two women simultaneously: one is a Swedish bee taxonomist; the other is Destry-Scholes's niece, a hospital radiographer. This is only one of the many mirror images here, for Bole had also married two women. In addition to the theme of doubles and doppelg„ngers, Byatt's (Possession; Angels and Insects) familiar preoccupation with insects, myths, spirits, metamorphoses and sexuality all come into play. The book is an erudite joke carried off with verve and humor. American audiences may not be quite so patient as the British, however, in indulging Byatt's many tangents. This book will appeal to discriminating readers ready for intellectual stimulation. 7 illustrations. 40,000 first printing. (Jan. 24) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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