Emily's Reviews > A Whistling Woman

A Whistling Woman by A.S. Byatt
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's review
Nov 10, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: 2002
Read in November, 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 fringe religious groups from earlier books) into a dangerous cult under the charismatic leadership of a new character; protests at the North Yorkshire University and the eventual declaration of an "Anti-University;" Frederica's work as the host of an intellectual television program; the romantic and professional pursuits of Jacqueline Winwar and Luk Lysgaard-Peacock, scientists and friends of Marcus Potter. Several of the deepest and most idiosyncratic characters -- Daniel Orton and his children, and Marcus Potter -- have fallen off the map almost entirely.

The ending is particularly disappointing, a pat resolution to Frederica's romantic problems. If the reader has learned anything about Frederica, it's that she is not one to sacrifice her sexual freedom or "settle," and so the final scene, meant to confer a sense of permanence and peace, falls flat. Stranger yet, the other characters (particularly the academics) disapprove of Frederica's choice to work as a television host, to the extent that I perceive some criticism even from Byatt herself -- who previously had treated prickly Frederica with great sympathy.

This is not a book I would recommend to those new to the series, who probably couldn't follow even how the characters are connected. Anyone who enjoyed the earlier books will probably feel compelled to read it regardless of what reviewers say. Those readers should expect an exploration of ideas in the post-Possession style, but no new insight into the Potter family.
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