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Still Life

(The Frederica Quartet #2)

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  2,070 ratings  ·  132 reviews
From the author of The New York Times bestseller Possession, comes a highly acclaimed novel which captures in brilliant detail the life of one extended English family--and illuminates the choices they must make between domesticity and ambition, life and art. Toni Morrison, author of Beloved, writes of Byatt: "When it comes to probing characters her scalpel is sure but gent ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published 1996 by Scribner (first published May 18th 1985)
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3.85  · 
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Jun 10, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners

Description: Frederica Potter, 'doomed to be intelligent', plunges into Cambridge University life greedy for knowledge, sex and love. In Yorkshire her sister Stephanie has abandoned academe for the cosy frustration of the family. Alexander Wedderburn, now in London, struggles to make a play about Van Gogh, whose art and tragic life give the novel its central leitmotiv.

In this sequel to her much praised The Virgin in the Garden, and the second in a magnific
This is a novel that made me cringe time after time, and yet I am compelled to say I loved it (not as much as The Virgin in the Garden, perhaps, and not as much as Possession, but it still is very impressive).

Be warned: there's more of the authorial voice in this part, which may seem a little intrusive; there are the little lectures on plant life (Marius' new hobby), which may seem redundant, but are beautiful, too:
[The] English elm propagates itself underground, and was probably imported by Sto
Feb 18, 2010 marked it as to-not-read-ever
Recommends it for: not a book club
Recommended to unknown by: book club dictator
The organizer of the book club I'd recently joined chose this for the group to read, citing it as one of her favorite novels read during the one year of an aborted Master's in literature that she managed to bring up at least twice per meeting.

I got this book out of the library. A few days later, I quit the book club. A few weeks later, the book club disbanded.

Just saying.
From BBC Radio 4 Extra:

9/30: The parents are upset when Frederica prepares to leave home and Marcus goes to live with his sister.

10/30: Frederica leaves for the south of France, while Stephanie and Daniel are celebrating.

11/30: Marcus visits his new nephew, Frederica assesses Cambridge men and 'lively' new vicar, Gideon arrives.

12/30: Stephanie escapes from her nagging mother-in-law and leaves Marcus to care for her baby.

13/30: Frederica discovers Raphael, Stephanie's baby, is on its way, but
Aug 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The length of this novel is not one of its virtues. Narrative flourish and verbal excess wage a constant battle with the reading mind. I'm tempted to speak of Proust, whose 'lost time' seems to offer itself as a key source of Byatt's anxiety of influence. Or Van Gogh, whose canvases haunt Byatt's imagination and prick the eyes of our memory, withdrawing their meaning into the lushness of words. Or, indeed, the metafictional passages of authorial self-reflection - unnecessary and tedious, for the ...more
Apr 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-2017
Wow, what a ride! Byatt's wonderfully erudite voice left me flabbergasted. I will definitely have to read The Virgin in the Garden once again in the future as the fact that I could not connect to it definitely had to do with my mood, not the writing. This second volume of The Frederica Quartet is simply splendid. It was a wonderful delight for all my senses! Hats off to Dame Byatt once again!
Mar 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I agree with the blurb from Anthony Burgess on the back cover: "We are in the presence of a remarkable intelligence....the allusiveness of (this book) is part of its strength, but the primal strength derives from the courage of the clear eye and an almost frightening compassion." I first read this about 25 years ago, and while I was amazed and impressed, I was also intimidated by that very allusiveness Burgess mentions. Now I'm better-read and I can deal with it with more success. I recognize Mi ...more
Oct 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary
As much Stephanie's or Alexander's story as Frederica's, this is just as complex, uncompromising and fascinating as the first entry in the quartet; in fact, I enjoyed this more because the major theme was a deep academic and literary study of colour rather than a flustered, fumbling, melodramatic study of the world as scientifically God-created through the eyes of two extremely strange individuals, ie Marcus and his teacher.

All Byatt's work is complex and intense, but no less enjoyable for the e
Jennifer Orr
Mar 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Byatt is my all-time favorite author. Not done with this one yet, but can tell this will be another favorite, up there with "Virgin in the Garden" and "Possession." Frederica returns from "Virgin" and is now established as my favorite character ever. I'm particularly loving "Still Life" because of Byatt's questioning of whether language is even adequate enough to depict our tangible world. Yet we treat it as an absolute. The Van Goghs, the ants (wouldn't be a Byatt book without some exploration ...more
Apr 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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Mar 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, mine, historical
Still Life picks up right where The Virgin In the Garden left off. Frederica is graduating, Stephanie and Daniel are expecting a baby, and Marcus, after his breakdown has moved in with Stephanie and Daniel (and Daniel's mum).

Frederica pursues academics, amongst other things, at Cambridge. She wants to work with those men of great minds and be looked upon as a great mind along with them but finds that as a woman she is still limited. Stephanie is wholly occupied with being a mother and helping D
Paul Dinger
May 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a very fit title for this book. It isn't really a sequel as much as a continuation. It now contrasts the artist Van Gogh's failed relationships with those of the book. We can see the bumps ahead for Federica, we can see how unconnected Marcus is. The death at the center throws everything into relief. A Still Life is a painting where the artist tries to show as much of real life as possible while still being an artist. In other words, control life as an artist. But life, as this book says ...more
Apr 12, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, read-unowned
For the record, I love A.S. Byatt. And I'm a firm believer of reading several books by the same author to get a feel for their style.

I was hoping that if I read this book soon after "The Virgin in the Garden" it would go better. But it didn't. While I felt slightly more invested in the characters, there was nothing that made me need to turn the page. I don't really like Frederica. She's just... I don't know what it is, but I can't bring myself to like her.

And this needs to be said. I hate it i
Mar 01, 2010 rated it liked it
Does this woman not have any humor? I think I'm finished with my enthusiasm for her lovely writing as she digresses into too many examinations of conversations/interests of the university students that are a yawn. The focus of this book seemed to me to be how women deal with their intelligence and life of the mind while tending to family, and job, always a complicated dance. The continuing observations of the effect of light, science of light, light in particular in Van Gogh's paintings were mos ...more
Louise Carlson Stowell
I tried to get through this book. I loved "Possession." This one I had to force my way to half way through before I gave up. Many of the characters are cardboard-ish. It is tedious...painfully tedious. I was interested in Marcus, Alexander, and Stephanie and thought their lives could have been expounded on more. The rest of the characters could have been left out. I didn't care about them, nor did I want to. It rambles without any real tension or plot from what I could see.
Nov 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2011
The second entry in 'The Frederica Quartet' seems somehow more relevantly narrated under that name; in other words, Frederica becomes, if not the central figure of the novel, at least the most fleshed out and compelling, to my mind. The other Potters-Stephanie and Marcus-as well as Daniel and Alexander remain integral to the familial drama that began in The Virgin in the Garden, though I felt these characters seemed to expand outward rather than develop in particularly new directions.

Stephanie a
Courtney Johnston
Feb 25, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: own, fiction
Reading through the reviews on goodreads, I'm interested by how much this book divides readers. (My favourite comment, by the way, was the person who described it as a 'perfect gift for an expectant woman'. In the book, there are three mothers: Daniel's mother, a ghastly, needy woman, about as welcome in the house as cancer; lost lonely frozen Winifred, who can't relate to any of her three children; and Stephanie, 'sunk in biology', struggling to keep her intellect alive as it drowns in the swam ...more
Oct 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had forgotten how much Byatt loves filling her stories with characters. The prologue introduces Alexander Wedderburn in 1980, Frederica eventually Potter (Alexander’s full name is given immediately, Frederica’s is doled out over time) and Daniel with no last name. Frederica receives letters from Will, who she wishes would also send them to Daniel.

The first chapter goes to Stephanie in 1953, and her husband Daniel, and her brother Marcus Potter, which informs us that Stephanie is somehow relate
Mar 30, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Definitely well written but it came across as verbose and pretentious.
It read as if the author wanted to show off her Cambridge education with various references to authors and artists such as D H Lawrence and Vincent Van Gogh on whose life she concentrates a fair bit, even making him the subject of a play that one of the characters in the book is writing. The main theme of the novel seems to be the contrasting lives of two sisters, Stephanie who has deserted academia in favour of domesticity an
Dan Crews
Sep 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
I am going backwards. I read Babel Tower first not knowing that these books are apart of a quartet: Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower, A Whistling Woman. Babel is a greater and more diverse book with many more subplots. If I remember correctly 4 narratives in one. But what is very good about this book is that Frederica, the supposed main character, is only one of many interesting characters. They all play off one another and are closely tied to one another. Each is on there own plot ...more
Aug 31, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2009
From other reviews I've read on here, people think that anything after The Virgin in the Garden A Novel is all downhill. After reading Still Life, I'm unfortunately inclined to agree.

The narration is as pretentious as ever. Before it was easier to ignore or completely disregard references, if your like me, and have never read Proust or Woodsworth. But part of the essence of the series it seems is the characters drive to continue to grow intellectually. It gets old quick as they go on page after
Ian Banks
Apr 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical

The disadvantage to coming to this series having started with the third book is that when you get near the end of the second book you are waiting for an event that heavily influences what happens in the book you started on. Then you become overly attached to particular settings and situations...

The authorial voice is very strong here; there are numerous expositional interruptions. Not the sort we get in the other books, where you get glimpses of a character's future, but full-blown digressions f

Sep 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
A. S. Byatt is one of those vintage authors who gets better and better with each of their books. In this earlier works, I feel partly disconcerted, and delighted for finding out some of the sources which she later used in Possession and The Children's book. The mention and description of the Boggle Hole is just one example.
The plot itself is not very cohesive. At least, one cannot make a coherent summary of it unless one reads it through, after The Virgin in the Garden. She said: "This is a boo
Oct 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I've said before that A.S. Byatt is a complicated author for me. Two of her books are among my favorites of all time, but others have fallen flat. Still Life is the sequel to The Virgin in the Garden, a book which I did not love at all. In fact, the only reason I decided to continue with the series was because I accidentally bought the third book in the quartet, Babel Tower, thinking that it was a standalone. But! Still Life surprised me, and I am now very glad that I made that mistake. It's bee ...more
Sep 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was definitely the best book in the Francesca Chronicles. I read Virgin in the Garden quite a while back and had been wanting to get my hands on this book for a long time.

I was available on book sites, but the price was forbidding. I managed to get Babel Tower in the 2nd Hand market. As we know, books there are found by serendipity, not design.

Still Life is about Francesca's time in Cambridge. It was during the mid fifties. The time was exciting for an intelligent woman with a mind of her o
Mar 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
A. S. Byatt write gorgeous, thoroughly uncomfortable novels that I feel unable to review. There is a lot going on in this book about art, including the inherent limitedness of any artistic depiction and the arrogant, human desire to categorize and describe the world. Most of that went over my head, though, and, instead, it was the conflict women face between family and career that drew me in. I sympathized strongly between both Frederica and Stephanie and the inability of either of them balance ...more
Feb 14, 2010 rated it liked it
A well written and rather highbrow book which should appeal to english language/literature students and anyone interested in writing and linguistics. Unfortunately I didn't find the book to be one of those that you can't put down. However, I wanted to plough through it and I thought it a good book. I couldn't quite get the link/connection between the leading characters and Van Gogh, it didn't quite gel. I found the jumping from character and situation within each chapter a distraction and at one ...more
Apr 11, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't realize this book was the second in a series until I was halfway through it. Perhaps I should have read the first book first. Parts of this were fantastic stories with great characters - Frederica is at the cusp of the sexual revolution and one of the few females at Cambridge, figuring herself out. Stephanie has pushed aside her Cambridge education and is dealing with domesticity only to be forced to deal with the family psychological outcasts. The minor characters develop too and becom ...more
Mar 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, historical
Not quite as strong as The Virgin in the Garden, but not-quite-as-strong Byatt still outranks most authors at full strength, in my book. Stephanie's storyline was the most compelling for me, as she searches for her sense of self after leaving a world of letters for the role of mother and clergy wife. Alexander seems to be included mostly for thematic purposes, at this point - the comparative ease with which he is able to pursue his art and compartmentalize his personal life is striking. Frederic ...more
Jan 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-for-fun
Wow, I liked this a *lot* better than The Virgin in the Garden. All characters, but especially Frederica and Daniel, seemed more likeable and more *interesting* to me. I was surprised to find that I did continue liking Andrew as well as occasionally wishing to give him a kick up the pants. The changes in Winifred and Bill were very well handled and hit close to home, for various reasons.

My chief regret is that Marcus didn't have more cause to interact with the babies. He LIKED the thought that h
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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

Other books in the series

The Frederica Quartet (4 books)
  • The Virgin in the Garden
  • Babel Tower
  • A Whistling Woman
“Narrative is one of the best intoxicants or tranquilisers.” 4 likes
“She was looking for a husband, partly because she was afraid no one might want her, partly because
she couldn't decide what to do with herself until that problem was solved, partly because everyone else was looking for a husband.”
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