Babel Tower

Here are some of the things I did not like about Babel Tower:

  • I have the wrong legal temperment to enjoy the courtroom scenes; I’m just not a trial lawyer.
  • I’m not sure that I was supposed to start reacting to the sex scenes in the novel in the same unsettled and increasingly disgusted way that I was to react to the sex scenes in the deliberately provocative novel-within-a-novel. In any event, there were too many of them; the number of male characters swooning over Frederica eventually became comical.
  • I haven’t read much E.M. Forster or D.H. Lawrence at all; Byatt more or less assumes quite close familiarity with Howard’s End and with Women in Love, and devil take the unprepared reader. (Then again, after “The Conjugal Angel,” I suppose I was on notice.) What’s more, if you don’t share Frederica’s passion for nice arguments in literary criticism about the relationship of the novel to life, you are going to be veeery bored for substantial stretches. Me, I had that interest beaten out of me in college.
  • Especially in the second half of the book, the extended quotations really get out of hand. I can objectively admire Byatt’s talent for stylistic mimicry while still finding it tedious.
  • Babbletower has been “edited” to purge it of the most interesting bits. No, not the ugly pornographic parts that lead to the obscenity trial. I mean some major plot developments.
  • Frederica, while not unsympathetic, does get on one’s nerves. In contrast, fascinating side (?) episodes involving other characters go undeveloped.
  • For some reason, I felt the discussions of science, even more than the discussions of literature, were gormless.
  • I guess I’m just not a child of the sixties, either literally or tempermentally.

Even with all of these complaints, I enjoyed the book. The plot was interesting, when Byatt attended to it, and even when she didn’t, her writing was up to her usually high standards of arch wit and comfortable grace.