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The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye Paperback – October 27, 1998
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"Once upon a time," A.S. Byatt's title fairy story begins, "when men and women hurtled through the air on metal wings, when they wore webbed feet and walked on the bottom of the sea, learning the speech of whales and the songs of the dolphins ... there was a woman who was largely irrelevant, and therefore happy. Her business was storytelling..." But this is no backward looking, quaint fairy time. The time is the present, and the protagonist is a sensible scholar who is given the not-at-all sensible gift of a genie. How will Gillian, an expert in fairy stories and well versed in all that can go wrong with wishes, use hers?
Distinguished British author and Booker Prize-winner A.S. Byatt creates fairy tales for adults, each a blend of the magical and the modern, and readers of Angels & Insects and Possession will recognize the role of Victorian fairy tales in her fiction. This handsome little book includes reproductions of woodcuts that evoke our childhood wonder for dragons and princesses, glass coffins and netherworldly things. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
The enjoyment of fairy tales comes from new ways of telling old themes. The underlying stories are predictable?innocence is tested, a mission accomplished, a lesson learned, and an adult finally born?but the characters, adventures, and outcome vary with each telling. However, every once in a while this pattern gets bent or broken, as in Byatt's collection of five previously published stories. Each story is refreshingly different, eloquently detailing the story's setting, and each contains developed characters and dialog that make them truly enjoyable. The last and title story is the length of a small novella and is itself a collection of stories within a story. Readers who can keep up will have a fascinating adventure wandering from story to story as a modern middle-aged woman is granted three wishes by a highly personal and experienced genie. More than a play on words, this piece is a play on storytelling. Byatt has redesigned the fairy tale, breathing new life into old themes, and has done it with talent to spare. For all collections.
-?Laurel Duda, Marine Biological Lab., Woods Hole, Mass.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The title story is the longest, about half the book. It was an interesting tale set in modern day. Some of the others are straight fairy stories which is my preference. The one about the three sisters especially captures the magic of traditional stories while at the same time being calmly non-sexist. I like that. It's a fairy tale you could read a six year old, and not have any of the weird issues that Cinderella or Snow White create.
Two thirds of the book are devoted to this novella. There are 4 short stories that make up the other third of the book. These stories: The Glass Coffin, Gode's Story, Tale of the Eldest Princess, and Dragon's Breath, are very well constructed adult fairy tales and well worth reading.
However "The Dijinn in the Nightingale's Eye" is exceptional. In this story, Gillian, a middleaged scholar is in Istanbul for a conference of experts on myths, legends, and fairy tales. Her husband has divorced her after their two daughters had grown and left home. From here the story starts to spin story within story in rich overlays of meaning and metaphor. Gillian is an expert in wishes since she is an expert in fairy tales. The wisdom of her three wishes drives the tale. We are treated to an interpretation of one of Chaucer's tales as well as a re-telling of Gilgamesh.
I am certain that rich feminist interpretations are possible, considering the images of the role of women that change throughout the book. The characters go to St. Sophia (named after the feminine aspect of the Holy Spirit) where they put their finger into a hole in a marble column that remains forever moist.
The writing was very erotic for a fairy tale. The Djinn appears nude in Gillian's hotel room, he is 20 times larger than a human, as are his genitals. Byatt then tales us of the overpowering smell of masculinity coming from this handsome giant creature.
The Djinn tells tales of his 1000 year existence in the courts of Arab kings. His tales of love reveal that his heart is as mature as the heart of Gillian, making them a wonderful match for the adventures they undergo.
I was thoroughly entertained with the wisdom of each of Gillian's three wishes and her ability to string out these three wishes as she gained more knowledge of the Djinn. It is her final wish that reveals the ultimate power in the Universe, at least from my perspective. Maybe this is why I was so captivated by Byatt's wonderful novella.
I read the novella twice over the last 5 years and it remains unforgettable for me. I can not recommend it more strongly.