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The Matisse Stories Paperback – March 28, 1995

3.7 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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The Underground Railroad
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"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In three masterfully written stories loosely inspired by Matisse paintings, Byatt (Possession) dazzles with her evocation of sensuous detail while adroitly emphasizing the interconnectedness of life and art. In each one, a woman teetering on the edge of losing her emotional equilibrium finds a small nugget of comfort after some unsettling surprises. Susannah, the troubled middle-aged heroine of "Medusa's Ankle," is drawn into a hairdressing salon by a Matisse reproduction on the wall. Byatt understands that a woman is most acutely vulnerable looking at her unadorned image in a mirror, and when the self-absorbed hairdresser confides that he plans to leave his wife for a young lover, Susannah's sudden outburst as she contemplates the loss of her youth, her attractiveness and her future is movingly real. Dr. Gerda Himmelblau, "a solitary intellectual nearing retirement," has a quieter epiphany in "The Chinese Lobster," but it is facilitated by a man whose sensibility about art and life she shares. Two doughty women captivate the reader in "Art Work," a delightfully surprising tale in which the "received" nature of art and a woman's role as muse are questioned with amusing insight. Byatt's lapidary prose shimmers with the colors she describes so intensely. Her understanding of human relationships is no less brilliant. Line drawings not seen by PW.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

A best seller in England, where it was published in 1993, this beautifully illustrated volume contains three stories-each a sort of "still life" inspired by a particular Matisse painting-of seemingly ordinary women: a middle-aged teacher forced to play psychiatrist to her self-centered hairdresser; a cleaning woman with a passion for knitting; and a college dean discussing a case of sexual harassment with the accused over lunch in a Chinese restaurant. Byatt (Possession, LJ 11/1/90), who has been in the news lately for her principled stand against huge advances for literary fiction, is a consummate prose stylist, possessed of both perfect pitch for dialog and a painterly eye for the telling details that flesh out these characters and reveal their essential humanness. Highly recommended for fiction collections.
--David Sowd, formerly with Stark Cty. District Lib., Canton, Ohio
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Paperback: 134 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; Fourth Printing edition (March 28, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679438823
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679438823
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,770,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Matisse paintings are more or less the inspiration for this short but insightful collection of stories. A.S. Byatt has done a wonderful job of incorporating insight and art into three compelling short stories. In "Medusa's Ankles" a middle-aged woman in a beauty salon reflects on her life and appearance while searching for a look that will allow her to recapture a small piece of her youth. "Art Work" is an insightful look into the lives of three different people and their personalities. We learn about a kind hearted and open minded woman, her stodgy and fussy husband and their frumpy but dignified housekeeper. Finally in "The Chinese Lobster" we are treated to an elaborate Chinese lunch where we hear two professors discuss Matisse's nude paintings while at the same time expounding the troubles of a suicidal student suffering from anorexia. A.S. Byatt does a wonderful job of capturing the feelings of self-loathing, insecurity and frustration to create a rich work of literary fiction. The stories are very atmospheric and filled with vivid imagery. This is a good introduction to the talents of A.S. Byatt.
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Format: Paperback
Henry Matisse's paintings were solid, colorful, and strangely calming to just sit back and look at. A.S. Byatt's "Matisse Stories" have a similar effect (though the effect of Matisse and his artwork only really is established in the third story). A mixed bag of three stories, all focusing on women and Matisse's paintings.
"Medusa's Ankles" introduces us to an aging woman who is drawn into a hair salon by the "rosy nude," a Matisse painting. Her semi-friendship with the hairdresser deteriorates when he leaves his middle-aged wife for a pretty young girlfriend, forcing the woman to face her own aging and life."Art Work" introduces a very artistic couple and their eccentric housekeeper -- who has a few secrets of her own. And "Chinese Lobster" takes on the sobering topic of sexual harrassment, when a young art student files a suit against a visiting professor who is lecturing on Matisse. But it turns out that the student may be the problem...
Matisse is sometimes the center of these stories, but elsewhere you can barely find the poor guy. His paintings -- and the destruction of them -- is the center of "Chinese Lobster." But his art is only a minor part of the other two stories. Byatt's flair for description doesn't fail her now -- she paints vivid, lush descriptions of restaurants, hair salons and past memories. At the same time, she adds small "everyday" touches like live lobsters, little dishes, paints.
While both "Medusa's Ankles" and "Chinese Lobster" are solid, self-contained little stories, "Art Work" is something of a mess. It seems to focus on too many subplots (Debbie's feelings about giving up her work, her husband's artwork) before settling on one.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really did love this little book. I expected more about some of his famous paintings, but I am familiar enough with his work, (not a student of his work), but I really like it. So, I knew I would not be disappointed by the 3 short stories included in this book.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Byatt has become one of my favorite authors, ever since reading The Children’s Book and Possession. While her style is distinctly her own, it somehow reminds me of George Eliot, another of my favorite authors. Byatt’s care in examining human motivations within social contexts is profound. Her characters have rich internal lives, often kept highly private, and live in a world resplendent with crafted artistry.

Byatt’s backgrounds are full of beads, cups, cloths, paintings, texts that burst with colors: salmon pink, turquoise, ruby red. Dishes are hand-painted with tiny curls and dots, clothing is woven with care, everything is abundant and vibrant, as though physical objects exude the life that Byatt’s characters are too reserved to express. The world is beautiful, whether or not people notice. Or if they do notice, it’s through an aesthetic lens alone rather than emotional one.

The three stories in Matisse are “Medusa’s Ankles,” “Art Work,” and “The Chinese Lobster.”

“Art Work” is the centerpiece of the collection. Debbie and Robin are married with two children. Robin is an artist, long struggling to express his fascinations with the particulars of color. To help run the household, Debbie hires Mrs Brown. In bringing about order, Mrs Brown occasionally interferes with Robin’s studio by tidying up his “fetish table,” a place in which he collects examples of color that he wants to examine: cobalt-blue candlesticks, a golden-green apple made by Wedgwood, a reproduction of a sunny-yellow sauceboat designed by Monet.

Mrs Brown is a bit of a scavenger, often collecting cast-off clothes, yarn, neckties, odds and ends that she uses for private purposes.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had to read this book for a class. For a required reading it was decent, but I would never read this otherwise. If you are looking for a book about Matisse, look somewhere else. All the stories in this book mention Matisse's works, but the book does not actually revolve around them like the title might have you think.
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