Babel Tower
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Babel Tower (The Frederica Quartet #3)

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  1,876 ratings  ·  112 reviews
Babel Tower follows The Virgin in the Garden and Still Life in tracing Frederica Potter, a lover of books who reflects the author's 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 charism...more
Hardcover, 619 pages
Published April 23rd 1996 by Random House Value Publishing (first published 1996)
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AS Byatt is a goddess of language. This book was sharp and dangerous in its exploration of human desire, education, language, love, and power. It was a bit of a shock after Still Life, in which the language was warm, full, sonorous - Still Life was complete and still, like Stephanie; Babel Tower is edgy and driven like Frederica. Jude Mason's book was difficult to read, but Byatt makes you believe in its value. If ever there was a book that encompasses everything that is important, I think this...more
Feather Stolzenbach
Probably my favorite of the four - intense and fun to read.

From the Publisher
At the heart of the novel are two law cases, twin strands of the Establishment's web, that shape the story: a painful divorce and custody suit and the prosecution of an "obscene" book. Frederica, the independent young heroine, is involved in both. She startled her intellectual circle of friends by marrying a young country squire, whose violent streak has now been turned against her. Fleeing to London with their young s...more
Babel Tower is an immensely pleasurable reading experience. Not because it's a particularly cheery book—god, it's not—but because it demands such intensity, such devotion of the reader and repays it all with interest. The intertextuality of it all is such a delight—books within books, Babbletower hidden within Babel Tower, the stories, the letters, the references to other novels—all giving rise to a level of introspection which feels organic rather than forced. Her characters are all incredibl...more
Apr 13, 2012 Lo rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Meh.
Honestly, I don't have a very high opinion of this book, but I think a good part of that derives from the fact that I felt like I missed the point to this book. Babel Tower seemed unduly long to me (by about 400 pages), with quotations from other books and trivial conversations filling up the bulk of the book. It also is written, in my opinion, incongruously, the storyline fluctuating rapidly and character's actions unjustified. For example, it irked me that in Frederica's trial that the fact t...more
Dec 21, 2011 Madelynp rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Lucy, Don, Anna
Great book, although it's difficult to get started. Very much about the lyrical value of language, which sounds pretentious, but only because it matches the pretension in the book. Frederica, the heroine, is at once likeable and disagreeable, and yet you cheer for her throughout. Within the book, you have two trials--one of Frederica's divorce, the other involving a book called "Babeltower" which is on trial for obscenity. Many references are made to the Lady Chatterley's Lover trial. On top of...more
Kristen Coppess
Stunning. The depth and research that went into this book boggles the mind. Byatt is a literary critic who obviously loves the work she studies (and finds conflict with Blake, Foucault, Sade, etc.) and this is evident in her interlacing of literary quips throughout the text. The protagonist, Felicia, was absolutely captivating. She was intelligent, strong, flawed, and representative of the changes to the 1960's domestic household when the wife is Oxford educated. Richly developed historical back...more
it's horrible to see frederica potter an abuse victim and then to witness the misogyny and unfairness she experiences in the court system. it's unsettling to see her in this frightening, cool, environment, where an indulgent unintelligent man is coddled by his hideous aunts and housekeeper.

the book within a book, babbel tower, is classed by the powers that be as obscene, and it is somewhat revolting, although actually conservative in its morals. it makes you wonder how people on here complain a...more
This is a very ambitious book, weaving together about 5 storylines on subjects as diverse as domestic violence, snail biology, educational reform, Britain in the '60s, and the question of obscenity in literature. It is painfully literary in spots, rather dull in others, and slightly snigger-inducing from time to time (the fantasy novel-within-in-a-novel did not work well for me). However, I ended up finishing all 600-some pages, and that says something, because I'm not one to finish a book that...more
Karl Steel
You get:

* Charles Fourier vs. Sade (in the novel, babbletower, within a novel)
* An affectionate send-up of the medievalism and attractions to Apocalyptic Blake in 60s counterculture (and a perhaps less affectionate send up of the countercultural psychology of Laing and Marcuse)
* A wondering exploration of the 60s developments in pedagogy
* a harrowing feminist account of domestic violence
* TWO courtroom dramas (first divorce, and then an obscenity charge, during which Anthony Burgess (!) appears)...more
I remember this long book being gloriously nebulous and complicated, spreading tendrils into the many subjects that interest its curious-minded protagonist. I read it almost constantly over several days while I was doing some extremely elaborate hair extensions on myself, and the hours flew by as I wandered through the layers of Frederica's life. Maybe another read is in order...
This is a difficult book to rate. A S Byatt is certainly one of the most intelligent writers today and her books are always superbly written, well researched, and so full of KNOWLEDGE, literary, cultural, political, psychological and even scientific and as such her work demands 5 stars. I found Babel Tower compelling, dealing as it does with the issues of the 60s which I lived through, but it is not an easy read. It is very intense, pregnant with illusion and information, long and very detailed....more
One of my friends, who maintains amazing literary tastes, told me two years ago that Babel Tower was unreadable. I now agree. The familial and educational contexts of the first two novels are gone in this one. What is left is simply ugly. Byatt hopes to make sense of the 60s with a pastiche method and pair of court cases. I deign she fails.
The 60's have arrived and we find Frederica married with a four-year-old son. Frederica, feeling trapped by both motherhood and by her horribly abusive husband, decides to escape one night with the help of her old Cambridge cronies. She makes a go of it on her own with her son, Leo. Frederica's narrative in the book is juxtaposed with that of a very disturbing book.

Frederica turns to teaching in order to make a living. Teaching comes rather naturally to her and she feels a bit abashed for not gi...more
weird divorce novel
Nov 09, 2009 Emily rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2006
One of the targets of my ongoing self-indulgent re-reading spree has been A.S. Byatt's novel Babel Tower. This is the third book in a tetraology that also includes The Virigin in the Garden, Still Life, and A Whistling Woman and that takes place in the England of the '50s and '60s. I used to like the earlier books better than the later ones, but perhaps this wasn't fair of me; each book seems to improve as I get closer to Frederica's age in it.

The first two books followed all three children of t...more
This novel is dense, and is full of literary reference, but for those of us who are not so well-read, we do not miss out. The story enthralls and holds, as it looks at power and evil against a backdrop of the beginning of the psychadelic era of the late fifties & early sixties. Two stories are written in tandem - the fanciful tale of a group of people who set out with high hopes of creating utopia, and the disturbing decay of this society. This story is written by Jude, one of the characters...more
Jan 17, 2010 Mag rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mag by: Cristina
Shelves: british, fiction
It is a novel of ideas. It was a pleasure to read, and I could go back to the beginning right away, start reading again and still find interesting issues to think about. It reflects and discusses issues which were topical in the 60s, like women's rights, new trends in education, changes in what was designated obscene and sexual revolution. It is also paradise for those who like literary analysis, and discussions in philosophy and ethics. It is dense with ideas on and from Nietzsche, Blake, Fouri...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Rowland Bismark
While Babel Tower continues the story of Frederica, begun in The Virgin in the Garden and continued in Still Life, it readily stands on its own. It is a large book, and its sprawl is not necessarily inviting. It does not offer itself as easily to the reader as, say, Possession did, and so our praise comes with the warning that this is not for everyone. The setting is the 1960's, and it is a novel about that decade -- though from a very intellectual point of view (a vista that has not provided ma...more
Helen Kitson
I do find Frederica rather a frustrating character - a bit limp - or maybe I'm just annoyed by her liking for DH Lawrence (whom I can stand in only very, very small doses); and I find her marriage to Nigel rather hard to take - why someone described by others as feisty and intelligent should be taken in by someone like him without biting back until it's (almost?) too late...If anything I find the internal Babbletower story more interesting - perhaps the ideas seem clearer? Though I'm quite enjoy...more
I was wondering why this book is so long and tedious (it's not without its great moments but yikes, so much ephemera!) and then I read an interview with Byatt saying this was her ode to Proust. I've never read Proust but I hear he harps on tiny details of life. Presumably he also has a lot of narrative dead ends, as Byatt sure does. Here is a non-exhaustive list of random things mentioned that go nowhere:
- Lots of build up to meeting the publisher's wife, Melissa, and...she chats at a party and...more
For whatever reason, no one I know seems really to like Byatt (& this is particularly as a novelist - I know a few who have enjoyed a short story or three), but she consistently shocks in her ability to take basically distant prose stylings and what one might call "dry" material (the academy; literary obscenity trials; pottery-making; Victorian poem-hunting; divorce court) & generate a narrative that I'm incapable of putting down. I neglected a great deal of work in order to chug through...more
Ubik 2.0
Il romanzo è essenzialmente un lavoro sul tema della comunicazione, dell'educazione e della libertà, donde il titolo: molteplici personaggi secondari operano in questo campo e, tanto per esemplificare, la compagna di casa di Frederica è la segretaria di una commissione ministeriale sull'educazione scolastica che esegue ispezioni conoscitive e il cui dibattito interno, sempre incentrato sul dualismo regole/libertà, occupa interi capitoli del libro dando modo all'autrice di sfoggiare la notevole e...more
I think of many things! This book is an absolute "MUST READ!"

Firstly, in Babel Tower I recognise the author I know and love. She is somehow matured and matriculated. Ah, this book is about the failure of language. It centres around Fredericka, although it is easier to think about it as a stand-alone book. The book is full of quotations, a sure sign of A. S. Byatt handiwork. French, German, Critiques, pop culture and many, many other things. It is as much a book about the barrier in language: wit...more
This remarkable third entry in the Frederica Potter series finds Frederica married and miserable, in the country home of her wealthy and controlling husband. It is now 1964, and the Frederica who wanted the life of an intellectual is virtually imprisoned in her home, with only her deep love for her small son to sustain her. As her relationship grows violent, her Cambridge friends help her and the boy flee to London, where she slowly creates an expanding circle of friends who involve her in art,...more
Aug 15, 2007 Wade rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: idealists
My ethics professor, Dr. Gabriella Lettini, suggested this book to me -- suggesting i need a better understanding of how desire can harm -- after reading my paper on the ethics of queer religious leaders publicly speaking about their sex lives.

this book is certainly about that, about desire and freedom, the limits of utopian freedom, the sort of intellectual space between Charles Fourier and the Marquis de Sade -- about whether indulging in human desires is liberative or destructive, utopian or...more
the language that byatt utilizes in this third book of the quartet is meticulously paired with the images that she creates. the book deals with such themes (amongst others): literary mertit; pushing the limits of societal constraints or norms in order to attain personal happiness or sense of freedom; the consequences of actions past and present that determine thought process and future actions; and exploring the "human condition" relationships encountered. in this tale, byatt empolys various lit...more
Jul 24, 2011 astried marked it as till-next-time
Let this book shimmer out of sight. Cleaning shelf, reducing guilt, giving it another chance another time.


with my exquisite and accurate instinct i managed to buy this 3rd book in frederica tetralogy and not the 1st and 2nd book, although i've had them in shopping cart.. during a 2SGD each second hand NLB sale... only because it would be too heavy to carry home and i couldn't imagine where to keep a growing book collection in my teeny tiny rented room......more
Really this should have three and a half stars, since parts of this book were tedious and/or (to me) pointless. BUT - the rest, especially Frederica and her marriage and relationship to her son were so compulsively, grippingly compelling and realistic that they were almost unbearable to read. Those sections, so full of emotional truth, redeemed the rest of the book for me.

I was unaware when I read it that this is the third novel about these characters, something I wish I had known when I starte...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-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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“She is afraid of divorce, which will free her, as she was not enough afraid of marriage, which trapped her.” 1 likes
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