Lizzie's Reviews > The Biographer's Tale

The Biographer's Tale by A.S. Byatt
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's review
Sep 22, 2016

it was ok
bookshelves: fiction, read-in-2010, read-but-unowned, big-disappointment, culled
Read from May 06 to 08, 2010

So this is a story told by an academic who decides to quit that and pursue concrete things. He decides to write a biography of a great biographer, known for his writings about a British adventurer. He obtains a number of essays written by the biographer, presented to us by Byatt, as she did with the poetry in Possession. They're puzzling - they describe playwright Henrik Ibsen, naturalist Carl Linnaeas, and scientist Francis Galton. All very well. But if they're intended to be biographical, they contain a number of falsehoods. By this time he's met a Swedish ecologist who helps him with translations and points out some of the errors. He then makes contact with the niece of the biographer, who provides him with index cards and photographs left by him. They're equally obscure.

All of this is interesting: what was the biographer planning to do with this material? what are the connections between the three subjects? All of them are about journeys, magic, transformation, illusion.

But that's where the book leaves us. The narrator becomes romantically involved with both of the women, gets a job that brings him joy (and a terrible misunderstanding), and then that's how it ends. None of the mysteries are revealed, and even the details about his life aren't clear: Do the two women know of each other, and approve his involvement with both?

He finds happiness and joy in concrete things, in nature, in the here and now. Maybe that's all we're supposed to take from it. But I was terribly unsatisfied.

May I just say that I’m annoyed by novels that have title that include the words "A Novel". The word "tale" in the title of this one should tip us off that this isn’t a work of nonfiction, in case there's any reason to doubt.
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02/25 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Moira Russell I found this book terribly unsatisfying too, altho I really liked the opening.

message 2: by karen (new)

karen twss

sorry, i really had to - it is a compulsion.

now, to earn my place here on the thread, i will read the review.

message 3: by David (new)

David That was a real stretch.


message 4: by karen (new)

karen don't start with me, kowalski. it was a perfect opening (twss) that i had to take advantage of (twss) and if you want to go at it with me (twss), i know this place where the tempers are really flaring and everyone is getting a little hot(twss).

stretch this.

Lizzie you crazy kids.

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