Amy Reads Books

The Virgin in the Garden

The Virgin in the Garden  - A.S. Byatt A.S. Byatt is one of my favourite authors and so when I found out she had written a quartet of novels I was eager to begin reading them. This first part of the quartet takes place in 1953 (although there is a prologue featuring Frederica, Alexander and Daniel in 1968), the year of the Queen’s coronation and follows a number of characters. There’s Alexander Wedderburn, a teacher & playwright who is also having an affair with a married woman and with whom seemingly every female character is in love with. His play on Elizabeth I is the catalyst for much of the plays events. Then there’s Stephanie Potter and Daniel Orton, the latter is a junior vicar who falls in love with Stephanie, the university graduate teacher and daughter of a staunch Athiest. The novel also follows Marcus Potter, the young son, who experiences weird fits and attracts the attention of Lucas, a teacher at his school. Finally is Frederica Potter herself, a 17-year-old in her last year at school and apparently resolute on having a sexual experience.I definitely didn’t like this novel nearly as much as I enjoyed The Children’s Book or Possession. It was almost as there was something slightly ‘off’ about the whole thing. I did love Frederica, a character who isn’t necessarily the most likeable character in the world and who is incredibly daring in her sexual explorations, considering the period in which the novel is set. She’s also incredibly intelligent and a character that I certainly would not mind spending the next three books with. I also enjoyed Byatt’s discussion of contemporary events, the scene where everyone watches the coronation in particular. Her writing about the suffacting qualities of marriage was also incredibly interesting and very well done. As was her more comedic writing about the putting together of the great pageant which holds Alexander’s play at the centre. I also enjoyed the way she painted Bill Potter, the father of Stephanie, Frederica & Marcus, a staunch atheist who claimed to believe in freedom of thought, but banned his children from reading anything he doesn’t agree with, mercilessly mocks religion and is also opposed to the establishment of a new university in York.However, I really had some problems with it. The novel was incredibly slow moving, mostly due to the fact that frequently the action would come to a halt for descriptive passages, many of which are beautiful but not really necessary. I will also admit that the plotline featuring Marcus was just a little bit…weird…and I found myself skipping much of the writing that involved him. I also felt that for a character that was apparently incredibly attractive to all around him, Alexander was a bit of a wet fish. His play didn’t really seem that genius and he also didn’t really seem that much of an interesting character.Byatt generally being a compelling writer and the character of Frederica are really the only reasons why I wish to continue onto Still Life; but the fact that some reviews claim that the earlier books are the best is slightly concerning to me.