Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I loved A.S. Byatt's Possession, but The Virgin in the Garden was somewhat of a grind to read. Like Possession, it's quite long, and it's written in a style that seems more 19th than 20th century. The plot, on the other hand, is quite modern, with lots of sexual promiscuity, even though it takes place in the early 1950s. The title has a double meaning, referring both to Elizabeth I, who is the subject of a play that is being rehearsed, and to the main character, 17-year-old Frederica, who becomes increasingly obsessed with losing her virginity. Frederica is appropriately cast as the young Elizabeth in the play. Frederica and her sister Stephanie both have a crush on Alexander, the author of the play, and a colleague of their father's. Stephanie's story is actually less tedious than Frederica's. Daniel, the fat local curate, asks Stephanie to marry him, and she consents, even though she doesn't share his faith. In fact, her father is a stanch atheist and appalled at her choice of a husband and Stephanie's abandonment of an academic life. The girls also have a brother, Marcus, who is clearly mentally ill and spurred on by his friend Lucas Simmonds, who is even more profoundly deranged. (Simmonds thinks that Marcus has magical powers, and I find it amusing that Marcus's family's last name is Potter!) I had to reread the Prologue, which takes place 15 years later, after finishing the book. Several characters are noticeably missing in the aftermath, and I guess I'll have to read the three sequels to find out what happened to them. Not.

No comments: