Let me state with emphasis: I have not, for a very long time, read a contemporary novel that has given me such immense pleasure as A S Byatt’s Still Life. Although I usually shy away from comparison, this book makes most fiction published today spurious coinage. A quotation from this novel, ‘Good writers should be good readers. Writing is a civilized activity’, locates the roots of this achievement, because as themes interlink and develop, one is increasingly aware of participating in a ‘civilized activity’ (in the same sense in which one reads and rereads ‘classic’ fiction). That A S Byatt is herself ‘a good reader’ is confirmed by the way she pays her readers the compliment of assuming that they will be familiar with the cultural, artistic and philosophical references of her characters.
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'Robert Silvers, editor of the New York Review of Books, once asked Isaiah Berlin who his ideal dinner guest would be. Without hesitation Berlin exclaimed, ‘William James!’'
'She digs her images into her story, so that they blow up like psychic land mines when the reader’s perception brushes against them.'
Hilary Mantel reviewing Margaret Atwood: a #BookerPrize double-header from the archive.
In Ali Smith's "Summer", 'the coronavirus pandemic has arrived. Lockdown happens too. There are allusions to Black Lives Matter, to online abuse and radicalisation, to things so recently news that it feels shocking to find them in a novel.'