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Babel Tower
A.S. Byatt
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Babel Tower

(The Frederica Quartet #3)

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  2,599 ratings  ·  173 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
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Ricardo Mejias I never read the other books and just started reading. I actually think it provided a better experience because as you read you can tell there's more …moreI never read the other books and just started reading. I actually think it provided a better experience because as you read you can tell there's more history there between the characters, but the author doesn't leave you high and dry, you eventually figure everything out even without having read the other books. (less)

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I am revisiting and expanding this review because I am currently reading The Blind Assassin, which reminded me of this book.

I recommend the Frederica quartet to any serious reader with enough time to read it, and this, the third volume, is probably the best. As always with Byatt, it is brimming with ideas and erudition, but she never loses track of her characters and their development.

Frederica has escaped from her disastrous marriage, and is now working in publishing. As in The Blind Assassin,
Jun 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners

Description: 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 charismatic rebel is charged with having written an obscene book, a novel-withi
Feb 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uk
Babel Tower, the third volume in the ‘Frederica Quartet’ series, was, to me, the easiest one to read and the most engaging one - possibly because Frederica is now getting closer to me in age, and I am interested in other women’s bookish motherhoods.

Some notes on this novel:

1. It is set in England, during the Swinging Sixties, at the time of vast social changes. The events defining the book’s moral landscape, and at the same time reinforcing its central theme of judgment, are Lady Chatterley’s L
Aug 16, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: feminism
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... ...more
Oct 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Karl Steel
Apr 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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)
From BBC Radio 4 - The Frederica Quartet:

16/30: Frederica has given up her care-free, independent Cambridge lifestyle. Will settling down bring happiness? Stars Indira Varma.

17/30: Daniel gets an urgent phone call about his daughter and has to face up to the consequences of his actions.

18/30: Frederica's fraught marriage is put under even greater strain when she makes a shocking discovery.

19/30: Nigel goes in search of Frederica, who has left, taking Leo with her. But was that the correct decis
Feather C.
Feb 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mag by: Cristina
Shelves: fiction, british
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
Jan 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Babel Tower: an apt name. The idea of striations/laminations/layers that permeates this novel is crucial. It's intertextuality is breathtaking. Each successive passage raises as many thoughts and questions in the reader, as it attempts to answer. Rich, intoxicating and unpretentiously "literary", this #3 in the Frederica Potter Quarter is the best yet. The polyphonic narrators at times compete for the reader's attention, in a discordant babble, but this does not deter or infuriate as it might do ...more
Lois Keller
Apr 13, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Rowland Pasaribu
Apr 10, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Nov 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Susan Dehn Matthews
Jul 18, 2011 rated it liked it
In the words of Byatt's character, Jude Mason, "they're words you react to...which will leave a trace on your memory..." Babel Tower tests the reader's attention, stomach, and patience. Yet if one perseveres, the threads are woven into a tapestry that, at long last, makes sense of a unique moment in history and lures you into wholly believing her characters might actually have drawn breath in the 1960s. ...more
Aug 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a book about love, literature, it its quite entangled and a reason for a great headache but it doesn`t push it, it just flows in its subtle comparisons, inequities, quotes, misery, anxiety, ambivalence. As a story it is mainly segmented in 5 stories that free themselves from their main corpse as they again and again build it. Frederica, who fights for the custody of her son, Leo and her own decisions that are unknown and frighten her in her runaway from her beloved, aggresive ex-husband, ...more
Nov 01, 2013 rated it liked it
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
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
Mar 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 26, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Byatt at her best. The novel-within-the-novel is as good as the story itself. My favorite of Byatt's 4-novel Frederica Potter series. ...more
Aug 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
I haven't read the other two books about Frederica, but I will probably do so now. She is an intriguing character, the kind of person I would like to know in real life. This is not an easy book to read, and, like many books, it could be read on different levels, depending on the reader's background and previous experience of texts, of literature, of philosophy and ideas. Byatt is a master of English prose - she writes with an authority, confidence and power that is rarely found. Possession was a ...more
Jane Gregg
Nov 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The miraculous third in this miraculous quartet that continues the story of Frederica Potter as she navigates the mid-twentieth century along the twisting path of change. Book 3 finds her in London, in the 60s, and in the dock - petitioning for divorce. The book has a couple of wonderful set piece court scenes in fact - and what is on trial? Women? Language? Writing? Reading? All of these. The book is worth reading for these scenes alone. There are poems within books within books within collages ...more
Helen McClory
Jul 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A large, sprawling, huge, vast, big novel.
Cecilie Jøhnk
Jan 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I read this some time in the nineties. Some of the scenes still haunt me.
Aug 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
Byatt continues the quartet of a thoughtful, intellectual variety. The strength of her analysis and the breadth of her consideration of the intellectual trends/swings of the 50s-60s are deeply and charmingly proven to be more than just a way of description. Babel Tower is a survey of ideas prevalent and signature to the times, and also a exploration of a woman's life as it might be lived, caught within the interstices of changing and cementing opinion, both strands artfully woven together and mu ...more
Nov 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013
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 this on ...more
Nov 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
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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
  • Still Life
  • A Whistling Woman

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