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A Whistling Woman (The Frederica Quartet #4)

3.75  ·  Rating Details  ·  978 Ratings  ·  83 Reviews

A Whistling Woman portrays the antic, thrilling, and dangerous period of the late ‘60s as seen through the eyes of a woman whose life is forever changed by her times.

Frederica Potter, a smart, spirited 33-year-old single mother, lucks into a job hosting a groundbreaking television talk show based in London. Meanwhile, in her native Yorkshire where her lover is involved in

Hardcover, 448 pages
Published December 10th 2002 by Knopf (first published 2002)
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Jul 15, 2009 Ellen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finished
Oh AS Byatt, I love ye! Once again another engaging and engrossing book by Ms. Byatt. Sometimes I wonder if other people have realize that Byatt may be one of the smartest authors alive? But her story weaves together Univeristy life, cults, the study of snails, mythology, sexuality, dissertations, children's stories, the emerging influence of television, feminism and early 1970s rebellion in England. And she nails it all. This book is fascinating not only because she offers a buffet of ideas and ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 10, 2009 Emily rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2002
The new book, A Whistling Woman has been a long time coming (and won't appear in the U.S. until December). While it avoids some of the ponderous over-stylization that made Babel Tower draggier than its predecessors, I found it disappointing as a conclusion to the series. Byatt devotes more attention to tying up small subplots from the previous books than she does to the main entanglements.

The book describes several parallel events: the merging of the Children of Joy and the Spirit's Tigers (two
Nov 16, 2008 Marianna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one
I have a love/hate relationship with the Frederica quartet. On the one hand, once started, I cannot put them down. It's like an intellectual soap opera; everyone is so special and everyone loves everyone because they're all ever so special and brilliant. On the other hand, they provide sheer narrative pleasure, much like a soap opera. My favorite character has always been brash, bold, "brilliant" yet stupid Frederica, and I really felt that Byatt did the character of Frederica a disservice with ...more
Karl Steel
May 25, 2009 Karl Steel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great book.

My only real complaint is that Byatt doesn't show what happens when the police break up the demonstration at the variously titled NYU or UNY (North Yorkshire University). She's led us to despise the spiritualist, romantic, medievalist, Tolkienite excesses of the late 60s American/European student movement, while, yes, complicating matters somewhat by witnessing to its responsibility for the incipient animal liberation movement and cui bono critiques of reason. But when the students
Sep 01, 2014 Cathy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Gave up in the middle.

This was just not what I want to read right now. As a book of a very particular history of late 60's thinking and society it is thought-provoking and insightful, perhaps. I wanted to read because it would give some insight into the time, the time I was conceived and know relatively little about. I found Byatt's writing less than appealing though, she does not write cleanly and as precisely as I like an author to do (when it comes to prose I am a short story reader at heart,
Oct 26, 2012 Ria rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a lover of linguistics, Byatt outdid herself in this book. Words and science, combined with religious cults and fairy-tales.

However, I find the elaborate description of a religious leader maniac somewhat too much! It reminds me too much of the stream-of-consciousness passages used in Modernist writing which, as everyone knows, gives no plot. The characters in the book are taken to the realm of parrody, mirroring Fredericka's TV shows.

As usual, there are hidden things one can discover for ones
David Llewellyn
May 18, 2014 David Llewellyn rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A Whistling Woman is the fourth book in the 'Frederica Quartet'. It is billed as a stand-alone novel but there are characters and storylines that appear here that have their genesis in earlier volumes. Perhaps it would be best to start from the beginning.
While there is much to admire Byatt's writing I don't think I have ever come across a novelist as keen to show off their research - not an ounce of wasted effort as everything from snails, zygotes and psychiatry gets more than a mention while a
Ian Banks
Apr 22, 2016 Ian Banks rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical

'That isn't the end. We don't know everything.'

'What's a real end?' said Frederica. 'The end is always the most unreal bit...'

It feels as though the series could continue on, is my initial thought on reaching the end of it.

Some of the other reviews I've read seem to hate on Dr Byatt for what they perceive as her crapping all over the free-spiritedness of the sixties, when in fact, if they'd been paying attention, she's really having a go at a lot of the intellectual laziness that was endemic i

A Whistling Woman is A.S. Byatt's conclusion to her quartet of stories about life in England in the 1950's - 1970's, central to which is Frederica Potter and the rest of her eccentric family and friends.

Frederica and Leo are still living with Agatha and Saskia - comfortably post Frederica & Nigel's divorce. Frederica has fallen into a career in television - almost accidentally and works on a series with Wilkie, and occasionally, Alexander. In the first book, The Virgin In The Garden, a teena
While not my favorite of the Frederica quartet, it does bring the series to a very satisfactory end. The whole first half of the book found me very resistant to the notion of adding all these new characters while pulling further and further away from some of my favorites. (Like Daniel, I may never be able to resign myself to Stephanie's death)I think it would be impossible to make any sense out of the plot if it were read out of sequence. My other complaint is that it leans a little too far into ...more
Jan 20, 2010 Marsia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I began this book unaware that it was fourth in a series, read it anyway, and now want to say that A WHISTLING WOMAN by A.S. Byatt stands brilliantly on its own. In fact, it may be best to read it first, or at least not to feel compelled to read the four Frederica novels in the order in which they were written. I read two of the preceding ones years ago, long enough ago to have forgotten them, and have begun reading STILL LIFE again. Have also read BABEL TOWER but not VIRGIN . . . GARDEN.

I admi
Sep 19, 2008 Philip rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A S Byatt’s A Whistling Woman is a strange book. At one level it’s a straightforward account of university life, with its politics, affairs and academic pursuit. But then there’s the suspicion that none of this is ever satisfying for those involved. They yearn for something bigger, whilst at the same time trying to deny its significance in their lives. Another strand is the career of Federica, one of the book’s principal characters. Almost by default, she finds herself host of a BBC2-style arts ...more
Ron Charles
Dec 12, 2013 Ron Charles rated it really liked it
Fans of A.S. Byatt's fiction can be divided into two groups: Those who cannot understand her novels and those who lie. Even her most popular work, the Booker Prize-winning "Possession," was demanding, and her previous novel, "The Biographer's Tale," was downright baffling.

Her latest, "A Whistling Woman," completes a tetralogy, meaning a fair number of us already feel intimidated. The series began 25 years ago with "The Virgin in the Garden," which introduced Frederica Potter, then a precocious t
Sep 13, 2010 Beth rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a good book. I read it because it's the last of a quartet and I've read the first three. The concepts were fairly intriguing (late 60s cults and student unrest, scientific research into the formation of memories) and so I chose to finish, but the execution was pretty dire. The worst sin probably lay in character development, descriptions were repeated incessantly but not skillfully enough to qualify as a motif, and most characters who hadn't appeared in previous books were nothing bu ...more
Aug 28, 2009 Christa rated it liked it
Shelves: 50-book-09
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 10, 2013 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first time I read this book, I found it a fairly unsatisfactory ending to the Frederica Quartet. I will admit that I started the series in medias res with Babel Tower, the third book of the series. It was a boring summer and I had finally found a library with the Frederica Quartet - or part of it, at least. However, I re-read the series about a year and a half ago, in the proper order this time, and I was overwhelmed.

The second time I read this series - perhaps because I started at the begin
Feather Stolzenbach
The last in the series concerning Frederica Potter. I liked it a lot. A deserving ending for our heroine.

From the Publisher
"A Whistling Woman opens in the late 1960s, as the world begins to split, and as Frederica - the spirited heroine of the novel - falls almost by accident into a career in television in London. Tumultuous events in her home county of Yorkshire threaten to change her life and the lives of those she loves." Meanwhile, near the university, where the scientists Luk and Jacquelin
Margaret Small
If I'd read the three earlier books in this series it might have been an easier read. As it was, when I was about three quarters through, I had to go back to the beginning as I was totally confused as to who all these people were. I did enjoy the comical depiction of university life, although the catastrophe at the end was predictable but still grim.
Mar 16, 2014 Wendy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
a difficult read as there is just so much thought and discussion on such a wide variety of topics ( snails, the cosmos, religion, philosophy, etc) real people just wouldn't have these kinds of conversations as a matter of routine! its almost as if ms Hyatt is showing off her immense knowledge of many subjects.
Laura Conrad
This one has more tedious stuff than the others, even Babel Tower. If you're interested in Manichaeism, cell biology, and ethology, you will like it. Otherwise, you might still want to know what happens to Frederika and the other Potters, but you'll want to skip a lot of the lectures.
Paul Dinger
It continues like Babel Tower (of which it makes several references)the story of Frederica. Yet, in this book, she seems strangly apart from the drama, most of which seems to take place at universities. The Sixties becomes the usual drug use, false messiahs and anti education. Yet, the main drama of the story ends anticlimatically. I won't say I was disappointed, but like Children's Book, I expect more from the author of Possession, not to mention the first two volumnes Virgin in the Garden and ...more
Mar 23, 2013 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I was very happy with this -- to me felt like a return to form after Babel Tower, which I rather hated (though Byatt is always interesting). Bill Potter's personal revelation about The Winter's Tale was perfect: "The thing about the late comedies - the thing is - that’s what they do, the effect they have, isn’t anything to do with fobbing you off with a happy ending when you know you witnessed a tragedy. It’s about art, it’s about the necessity of art. The human need to be mocked with art - you ...more
Kay Robart
I may have been less bemused by A Whistling Woman if I had known that it was the fourth in a series by A.S. Byatt, of which I have only read Babel Tower, and that long ago. Instead, I kept having the feeling that there was something I just wasn’t understanding. My impression was that it was about too many things, so I was relieved to find a review in The Guardian that criticizes it for having “too many ideas” and being an “over-ambitious jumble.” The intent of the series, says The Guardian, is t ...more
Sep 10, 2008 Randi rated it it was amazing
Shelves: real-literature
At last, a fitting resolution to the story Byatt began four novels ago with "The Virgin in the Garden." The Potter family - all of them, including Stephanie - have come full circle and Frederica (long-searching, long-suffering, and sometimes too intellectual for her own good Frederica) has settled into her own.

Reading Byatt always opens me up historically and culturally, not to mention that I always feel compelled to read more great works of literature while I'm doing so in an effort to truly un
Mar 22, 2008 Wendy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book. A really great look at the good things, bad things, weird things of the 60's as well as then ideals turn into fashion/hypocrisies or worse evil. The partial list of topic covered: student protests, cults, tarot, tv, laura ashleigh, drugs, a little bit of free love, science experiments/research involving snails, free speech, insanity, christianity.

the overall tension reminded me of the movie Strawdogs which might have made the book more unsettling. I'm insisting that my
Jul 11, 2015 Lily rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I never imagined giving a Byatt novel 2 stars but in this instance I couldn't bring myself to give any higher! There is no denying that Byatt is a master of her craft, but I'm afraid this descended into egotistical philosophising too often, at the expense of the plot and characterisation.

The conclusion , as a result of far too many intricately detailed and academic tangents, felt rushed and unsatisfactory.

There's no denying Byatt's erudition in many diverse matters, however there's a fine line
Martha Woodroof
May 18, 2014 Martha Woodroof rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I did an NPR feature on Dame Edith when this came out. Fascinating woman; fascinating book.
Jan 18, 2012 Paddy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really loved Virgin in the Garden and Still Life, tolerated Babel Tower, and skimmed huge swaths of A Whistling Woman. Face it, readers only really care about Frederica, not biology and religious cults. Increasingly, showing off her esoteric knowledge of many things seems more important than plot to Byatt. The rumored feud between Byatt and her younger sister Margaret Drabble may or may not be true, but I remember finding it telling that Byatt killed off the sister in Still Life. That her deat ...more
Sep 24, 2008 Judy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was rather disappointed with this volume of the Frederika saga. It is too full of long discourses about science which, unless you understand them (I don't) are irritating. The storyline of the cult is also a little reminiscent of Babel Tower. Of course there is still lots of interest for anyone who was young in the late 60s and , with hindsight so much silliness spoken then. On the other hand, the interest in the arts and in answering basic moral problems is refreshing. AS Byatt makes feminism ...more
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A.S. Byatt (Antonia Susan Byatt) is internationally known for her novels and short stories. Her novels include the Booker Prize winner Possession, The Biographer’s Tale 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 Ey ...more
More about A.S. Byatt...

Other Books in the Series

The Frederica Quartet (4 books)
  • The Virgin in the Garden
  • Still Life
  • Babel Tower

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“Frederica also thought, for she had been there many times, that if this was a beginning, it was the beginning of an ending, that was the way it went.” 3 likes
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