THERE ARE CLIMATIC and passionate extremes in these six 'stories of ice and fire', but their general theme is that of A S Byatt's earlier collection of five fairy stories, The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye: the necessity of finding our natural element if we are to live and not just be kept alive, to be a growing plant and not a flower standing in water. A thoughtful girl, known as 'the eldest princess', in one of the stories from The Djinn could stand in for several of the heroines of this new book. She sees herself as 'caught in a story'. 'I am in a pattern now,' she says, 'and I suspect I have no power to break it.' All the heroines – and heroes – in Elementals are concerned with the breaking of patterns.
The first and most considerable story, 'Crocodile Tears', could have been called 'The Windbreak', the title of the painting that becomes the prophetic symbol of the last moment when Pat Nimmo and her husband share 'a patch of time'. The pattern is