Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice
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Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  760 ratings  ·  69 reviews
In the same delectable format as The Matisse Stories, this collection deals with betrayal and loyalty, quests and longings, loneliness and passion - the mysterious absences at the heart of the fullest lives.

A scholar pursues an elusive biographer, stumbling upon buried fragments of distant lives; a woman walks out of her previous existence and encounters an ice-blond stran...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published December 28th 1999 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1998)
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This is my first Byatt, and it's the kind of writing I absolutely adore. There's something about the fairytale format that always makes me a little giddy-headed, perhaps because it simultaneously sates my craving for fancy and my craving for structure. It's non-reality that isn't altogether nebulous. And, is that not the very essence of art?

I've heard that Byatt's books, including this one, require extensive knowledge of folklore and history, but I didn't find that to be the case. For all I (sur...more
Byatt is an exceptionally creative short story writer. This is my third collection of her short stories and, although not my favourite, it is still definitely worthy of 5 stars. The fairytale feel of the stories was nice, and her descriptions of the simplest of things are unparalleled and very magical to read.

If you guys love me or have even a paltry shred of affection left for me in your hearts, you will read the following excerpt:

"And she appealed to the painter, should Dolores not learn to be content, to be patient? Hot tears sprang in Dolores's eyes. The painter said:

'By no means. It is not a question of accepting our station in the world as men have ordered it, but of learning not to be careful and troubled. Dolores here has her way to that better part, even as I have, and, like mine...more
I think this was the first really adult book I read outside the 'classics'. These tales draw on the form and style of fairy tales. They are aesthetic and pared down to survival and sensuous pleasure found in yellow suits and soft bathrobes and copper crocodiles and dancing in the snow and fluted music and blown glass and fish and eggs.

I tend to feel this aestheticism stands against the sense-deadening effects of onslaughts of advertising. Yet in 'Jael' the narrator is a creator of advertising: s...more
Update, 2011 reading

Happened to accidentally re-read this one, having been stuck at a coffeeshop for a few hours with a friend who only had this book to spare me. Consumed it incredibly swiftly, much like I had upon my first reading, and remembered why I found this collection of tales (six total) so intriguing, shimmering, and powerful. Each story is organized loosely around extremes of heat and cold; in some cases this is an atmospheric or environmental theme ("Lamia" and "Crocodile Tears"), in...more
A month or so ago a friend had recommended a book by this author to me, so while I was doing something else last week but realized I was on the appropriate floor of my public library to track down and check out that book, I stopped by its place in the stacks. It was not there, but a whole row of other books by A.S. Byatt were, patiently waiting for someone like me to come along and appreciate them. In truth, I selected this volume because of its size—I could fit it comfortably in the span of my...more
This book was a complete disappointment. It doesn't have an index, the chapter headings are entirely obscure, and I can never find the stat blocs when I try to use this during play. The basic problem is that they devoted far too much space to flavor text, and not nearly enough to the crunchy bits and the supporting infrastructure needed to make the crunchy bits useful. While an original and creative effort, I would not recommend this book to anyone but collectors and completists.
I cannot emphasize enough how GOOD A. S. Byatt's writing is. It carries you, colors your inner mind, and creates scenes so real--and yet so magical--you'd not believe it.
I'm in love with her writings; thankfully, she has written quite a bit.
I listened to these on tape and loved them! I'm not always crazy about short stories, but I really like A.S. Byatt and these were very fun/funny/haunting/memorable. I think this is one of the best book of short stories I've every read.
I've tried A.S. Byatt before, but she didn't take. This short story collection is pretty good, though. 'A Lamia in the Cevennes' and 'Jael' are five-star efforts by any standard. The first is a literary fantasy about artistic obsession and its links to the sexual variety that contains some extraordinarily sensual writing; the second connects the Biblical story of Jael and Sisera with a schoolgirl crime that may or may not have been committed, and shows how, metaphorically speaking, the Devil fin...more
As with most collections of short stories, some of these were better than others. They were well-linked by the theme of isolation and the elemental focus of the stories and I thought the collection was a coherent one. The prose was beautiful, lyrical and evocative and I look forward to reading some of A. S. Byatt’s longer works (I have Possession on my shelf) as I think that this will be even more evident when the author has a bit more breathing space. Although the stories are very well-written,...more
Lee Ellen
Elementals by A.S. Byatt is a collection of stories with fantastical themes. While some of the stories are truly like fairy tales in the dark “Brothers Grimm” sort of way, others are more realistic with the sense of fantasy coming from the imaginations of the characters themselves. Each story is rich in imagery and pathos. In one story, we meet an artist who cannot comprehend a special color of aqua blue; as he spends his days in contemplation to "solve" this color, a mysterious shadow begins to...more
I rarely dislike books this much, and I'm afraid this short story collection has coloured my perspective of Byatt for the future. I'm surprised so many people enjoyed it, but I guess to each his or her own.

This collection starts with what I think is the weakest story of all, Crocodile Tears, a boring 75 page-long story about a woman who escapes her life and ends up in a small town. There really is no plot, and I felt no connection to the main characters; it just drags on and on. Byatt does do s...more
The byline of this book is Stories of Fire and Ice, so all of the stories contained these two elements in one way or another. Several of them read very much like fairy tales in their representations of one or the other of the elements and made for very pleasant and lyrical reading. "A Lamia in the Cevennes" was very artistic, fantastical and eerie while "Jael" managed to appear non-fantastical until the very end which gave you shivers.

My favorite in the collection would have to be "Cold" though....more
Byatt writes with such poetic frankness, and makes her characters into people with realistically unfolding lives and undefined motives.

Her short stories are satisfying, but in a kind of bittersweet way that echoes reality even when they are fantastic. I can't help feeling like I'm not mature enough for Byatt; her protagonists possess a level of developed...grounded-ness that is still mysteriously alien to me. They don't always resonate with me because I can't quite see myself as "adult" in the...more
"Crocodile Tears" is very sad. Patricia's husband dies suddenly. In shock, she leaves town and runs away, hoping to fall off the map. In Nimes, she meets a man named Nils, a Norwegian, who is also running from grief. The two form an uneasy friendship, in a French city surrounded at every turn by crocodiles in the very architecture.

"A Lamia in the Cevennes" This was a story about a painter and his awesome pool! Which was invaded by a creepy snake. Who turned out to be a woman. Not sure how I feel...more
Maree Kimberley
This book is the first by A.S. Byatt that I've read and now I'll be searching for more. I loved the stories in this book. For me, the writing in these stories is as close to perfect as writing can get.

The first story in the book is the one that captivated me the most. As a reader and writer I am fascinated by the idea of what happens when someone just walks away from their life. In this case the catalyst is the death of the woman's husband. I adored this story and would place it in the top 3 sh...more
I only read the first short story, "Crocodile Tears", because I was looking for some light bedtime reading, and A.S. Byatt gave me exactly that. The story was captivating enough to keep me reading, but trivial enough to lull me to sleep.

"Crocodile Tears" is the story of Patricia Nimmo, a fiftysomething woman who escapes by chance to Nîmes, France, after her husband dies. There she becomes anonymous and free, but still unable to feel any sort of emotion towards her husband's death (thus the title...more
Elementals explores the ideas of fire and ice in several different ways.

It varies from "Cold", a fairy tale story with literal fire and ice in the form of an ice princess who marries a fire oriented prince, to "Crocodile Tears", a modern story with no magic where the ice manifests as a motif symbolizing guilt and grief.

With such a short collection - just six stories- I was disappointed that there was one that fell completely flat for me ("Baglady"), but as it was very short, just ten pages or so...more
Like everyone else, I really enjoyed A.S. Byatt's novels, particularly Possession. However, and sadly, I'm not a fan of short stories, hers or anyone else's, and this collection didn't help any. Although the narrator on this CD collection was excellent, it seemed like Byatt had a great idea, and then started writing, and in some cases, writing and writing and writing. . . and then plunk, the story just ended. Or maybe by that point I'd tuned out from listening. I can't recall. Honestly, I don't...more
Ian Rogers
While I really enjoy Byatt's writing and found the vaguely mythological dreaminess in all the stories in this collection charming and engaging, I found it rather off-putting that the last few stories didn't go along with the rest of the collection thematically. Maybe I missed something, but to me Bag Lady and after just didn't fit in.
Audrey Anne
A favorite of mine! I was excited to find a new and colorful author to add to my repertoire. I first heard one of her stories (about Martha and Mary) on the radio and I had to seek out the collection. That story in particular has so many layers. It is lush, superficially, but it also points to deeper things and even has illustrations within illustrations...all at the same time. For me, this was a reminder of the diversity within the genre of magical realism.

I wanted to read Posession, but was a...more
Sep 10, 2007 Ashley rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: those who like grown-up fairy stories
Shelves: fiction
There are 2 stories from this collection that stick out in my mind. The first is a love story/fable about an ice princess who fell in love with a firey man from the desert. I juset like this story. It sometimes reminds me of Blood Moon by Lorca probably because of its use of contradictions, fire and ice, male and female, pain and ectasy (sp?). The other is a story about a woman who's husband dies at an art gallery, and she just walks out the door and goes to Spain. Contradictions are obvious her...more
A varied collection of short stories, written with all the elegance of prose that one would expect of A.S. Byatt. 'Crocodile Tears' was my favourite of the stories, where a woman flees the reality of her husband's death, travelling to live in the south of France where she hopes to find some respite from her guilt and her grief; 'Cold' was also a favourite because of the sheer sensuality of the language. That said, I didn't find myself wholly caught up in these stories; to me, Byatt seems more n...more
Re-read April 2003.

I think this is my favorite Byatt -- because I love the story Cold -- in spite of being a reluctant fantasy, magical realism and so on reader, I was absolutely bowled over by Cold -- it was like reading all the fairy tales in childhood fairytale books but this was an adult reading a book written for an adult and experiencing a fairytale. It still amazes me that I responded to this story as I did -- and Ire-read it every now and again. It's absolutely lovely. I do like the rest...more
My favorite collection of short stories by Byatt. I keep wandering back to it and flipping through the pages, and then I end up reading the whole thing over again. "Cold" is fantastic. I've tried to explain it to people, and the plot sounds so cheesy, but you have to read it to understand its beauty. "A Lamia in the Cevennes" and "Crocodile Tears" were also favorites. One thing I love about her stories is that they can be so real, and have that one element that is just the opposite. A lot of gre...more
This collection of short stories was quite hit-and-miss for me. I found it very difficult to get into, partially because I found the first story to be too long (almost 80 pages), and also because I found the story to be too focused on its beautiful language and descriptions - I need a bit more plot in my short stories! I did, however, really enjoy two of the stories in this book: Cold and A Lamia in the Cevennes. Both of these stories were excellent works of magical realism, and I actually wish...more
Karen Uchic
Extraordinary. Intelligent and compelling. I want to read everything she's written.
Katie Farris
I love Byatt's short stories: I love the mix of reality and the fantastic, particularly how she treats both equally with a kind of tweedy English get-to-it-iveness that demystifies the mystical without it losing any of its lovely sheen. The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye is perhaps a better book overall, but the stories "Crocodile Tears," "A Lamia in the Cevennes"and "Christ in the House of Martha and Mary" are particularly outstanding in this collection.
I'm not usually much of a short story reader. There are a few exceptions, and one of them is the stories Byatt often has within her novels, so I thought I'd try these. My favorite was the most fairy-tale like, not surprising since it's most like the other of her stories I've read. Byatt of course is an excellent writer, and these stories are beautifully constructed and written, but I'm not as fond of her stuff with contemporary settings.
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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-winning 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 E...more
More about A.S. Byatt...
Possession The Children's Book Angels and Insects The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye The Virgin in the Garden

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“Ice burns, and it is hard to the warm-skinned to distinguish one
sensation, fire, from the other, frost.”
“When the morning light came into the room it found them curled together in a nest of red and white sheets. It revealed also marks, all over the pale cool skin: handprints around the narrow waist, sliding impressions from delicate strokes, like weals, raised rosy discs where his lips had rested lightly. He cried out, when he saw her, that he had hurt her. No, she said, she was part icewoman, it was her nature, she had an icewoman's skin that responded to every touch by blossoming red. Sasan still stared, and repeated, I have hurt you. No, no, said Fiammarosa, they are the marks of pleasure, pure pleasure. I shall cover them up, for only we ourselves should see our happiness.

But inside her a little melted pool of water slopped and swayed where she had been solid and shining.”
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