Sunday, June 29, 2008

Book Review: "The Biographer's Tale"

Yes, I did get through four entire books over the last four days (if you'd spent as many hours in airports and on planes as I did, you probably would have done the same). The final of these, finished at home, was A.S. Byatt's The Biographer's Tale, in which the author draws upon her many successes at fictive biography in The Possession and turns them into something very different here.

This is a sort of "meta-biography," an autobiographical work by someone trying to write a biography (after having given up literary theory for not having enough 'things' to work with). Like Byatt's other works, the novel is learned and complicated ... I found it a bit hard to concentrate on it at times. She brings in a wide range of scholarly interests, adding elements of artistic and scientific inquiry to her narrator/protagonist's plate as he delves into the researchers of his chosen subject and finds much more there than originally met the eye.

Byatt's ability to describe, lampoon and dissect the foibles of academia make this book worth reading. Her attempts to combine those elements with the expected (and long-delayed) romance (or romances in this case) fell flat for me. Passing those sections off as those of a narrator uncomfortable with writing about his own experiences seemed a bit of writerly hocus-pocus.

All in all, an adequate book, but not one I expect to have the urge to read again.