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Little Black Book of Stories Hardcover – April 20, 2004

4.1 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

From secret agonies to improper desires and the unthinkable, this slyly titled collection touches on more than a little bit of darkness. Booker Prize–winning author Byatt (Possession) masterfully fuses fantasy with realism in several of these stories, packing a punch with her sometimes witty, sometimes horrifying examinations of faith, art and memory. In the stunning "The Thing in the Wood," two young girls, Penny and Primrose, sent to the countryside during the WWII London blitz, confront the unconscious come to life as a monster ("its expression was neither wrath nor greed, but pure misery.... It was made of rank meat, and decaying vegetation"). They return in middle age to face the Thing again, but Penny, a psychotherapist, doesn't fare as well as Primrose, a children's storyteller. A lapsed Catholic gynecologist tries to rescue a starving artist in "Body Art," enacting what Byatt casts as the very obstructiveness of the Church he left behind. It's a chilling story that shines with grace. Byatt's modern-day fairy tale, "A Stone Woman," details a woman's metamorphosis from flesh to stone, which is both terrible and redemptive ("Jagged flakes of silica and nodes of basalt pushed her breasts upward and flourished under the fall of flesh"). In "Raw Material," a creative writing teacher finds inspiration in the work of an elderly student who comes to a gruesome end, the student's life and death imitating bad art very unlike her own. The haunting final story of the collection, "The Pink Ribbon," about a man who is more troubled by remembering than by forgetting as he cares for his Alzheimer's-addled wife, turns on the appearance of the ghost of the wife's former self. With an accomplished balance of quotidian detail and eloquent flights of imagination, Byatt has crafted a powerful new collection.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Byatt’s readers fall into two camps. Some find her enthusiasm for minutiae in these Gothic tales infuriating—not everyone wants to read an extended description of the proper treatment of stoves. These detractors find this collection too smart for its own good, its many facts and metafictional digressions obstructing real emotion. Most readers, however, fell under Byatt’s spell. For all her book-learning, many agree that Byatt can spin a story that’s captivatingly scary—and perhaps more. Several praised these stories—“A Stone Woman” and “Body Art” in particular—as funny, poignant, and even uplifting. Byatt, award-winning author of Possession, may be only too willing to show off her knowledge of a variety of subjects. But for many, this knowledge only adds to her power.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; First Edition edition (April 20, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400041775
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400041770
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #897,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There is an axiom that states "Don't judge a book by its cover." In this case, the black fading into charcoal gray dust jacket (with a flowering golden sprig) is a precursor of things to come. The stories are dark, somber and brilliant. Who else could construct a series of stories where grief, anger and abuse are manifested in such creative, innovative and bizarre ways?

A woman loses her mother. The relationship, while lightly touched upon, was probably an inseparable one (the daughter states, "She was the flesh of my flesh. I was the flesh of her flesh.") Post the mother's death, her daughter begins to turn to stone but not just any stone; she begins layer by layer to manifest the various exotic stones found in Iceland. They are veined, with complex glints of underlying colors and multiple hues.

Then there is an Icelandic sculptor who goes to enormous difficulty to bring her rigid, statue-like self back to the land of his ancestors. Was this all a metaphor for a woman who was experiencing grief? An unmarried woman, the reader might conjecture, who was faced with an enormous personal transformation without her mother? One who needed a sculptor to introduce her to the real and essential self whom she had not previously recognized?

The bizarre journey proceeds as the reader meets the members of a writing class, experiences the rich memories of its oldest class member, as she describes everyday life when running a household was much more labor intensive. There was the cast iron stove to be kept highly polished on a daily basis, the laundry that was to be boiled, stirred and immersed into multiple rinses. Then came the laborious ironing!
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Format: Hardcover
British author A.S. Byatt reached her artistic pinnacle in the erudite, exquisite "Possession." But she's still in excellent form in "Little Black Book of Stories," a simple short story collection that embraces the tender, the macabre, and the fantastical, all wrapped in her lush prose.
"The Thing in the Forest" opens with a pair of young girls wandering in the woods -- only to come across a ghastly, inhuman monster. That monster haunts their memories as they grow up separately. "Body Art" tells of a obstetrician and his strange quasi-romantic relationship with a messed-up art student, which raises questions about birth, death and love.
"A Stone Woman" is born after surgery, when Ines finds that her body is slowly changing into a form of living stone. "Raw Material" takes a nasty twist, when a creative writing class, and a strange story, ends in murder. And "The Pink Ribbon" introduces James, an old man caring for his senile wife Mado... until a strange young woman with a connection to Mado comes into his life.
The thing that links the parts of "Book" together is the fantastical and horrific. "Body Art" is the one that doesn't fit in, since it's all solidly set in the real world; but the rest is a mass of Icelandic troll-women, ghosts of people who are still alive, and the Loathly Worm. Even "Raw" is a horror story, based on the evil that people can do.
Byatt's stories are beautifully self-contained, even if they don't always end on a completely conclusive note (the exception being "Thing," which feels unfinished). And her writing is still outstanding, flexible and versatile; she can write like a child or an intellectual, a writer or a scientist.
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Format: Hardcover
To write like this, to really write like this, what power! These stories take hold of the mind like the great myths of the past. The sentences are crisp and clean, and simple in the way the best of all great writing is simple, with a simplicity that stirs to life the deep complexities of the subconscious. If I could write like this I would die happy.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Although billed as "fairy tales for grown-ups" like the author's earlier collection, THE DJINN IN THE NIGHTINGALE'S EYE, fantasy plays a major part in only one of the five longish stories in this book, and two are entirely realistic. But they are connected nonetheless by a strong sense of the fabulous, for all five are about the making of stories themselves, or the ways in which art is hewn out of life.

Sometimes literally so. The central story, "A Stone Woman," features a middle-aged woman who feels herself turning slowly into stone, and her friendship with an Icelandic sculptor engaged in the reverse process, of finding the life hidden in rocks and boulders. The woman's observation of her own transformation shows Byatt's writing at its most iridescent: "She saw dikes of dolerites, in graduated sills, now invading her inner arms. But it took weeks of patient watching before, by dint of glancing in rapid saccades, she surprised a bubble of rosy barite crystals, breaking through a vein of fluorspar, and opening into the form known as desert rose, bunched with the ore flowers of blue john."

Compare the simplicity with which the book opens: "There were once two little girls who saw, or believed they saw, a thing in a forest. The two little girls were evacuees, who had been sent away from the city by train, with a large number of other children. They all had their names attached to their coats with safety-pins, and they carried little bags or satchels, and the regulation gas-mask." As the simple details pile up, Byatt takes us back, not just into childhood, but the specific childhood of Londoners of our generation at the start of the Blitz. Rather at C. S.
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