Medusa’s Ankles (1993) by A.S. Byatt. A salon patron has a violent breakdown at a salon. Susannah is unable to cope with the combination of her mature appearance and a salon’s youth-oriented décor. The reaction to her tantrum at the salon is unexpected. (But now that I’ve told you that, you might just as well expect it.) Susannah’s tantrum seems overdone, but it was an enjoyable read, nonetheless. The conclusion was particularly good.
He worked above her head. He lifted her wet hair with his fingers and let the air run through it, as though there was twice as much as there was. He pulled a twist this way, and put his head on one side and another, contemplating her uninspiring bust. When her head involuntarily followed his he said quite nastily, ‘Keep still, can you, I can’t work if you keep bending from side to side like a swan.’
‘No harm done, just keep still.’
She kept still as a mouse, her head bowed under his repressing palm. She turned up her eyes and saw him look at his watch, then, with a kind of balletic movement of wrists, scissors and finger-points above her brow, drive the sharp steel into the ball of his thumb, so that blood spurted, so that some of the blood even fell on to her scalp.
‘Oh dear. Will you excuse me? I’ve cut myself. Look.’
He waved the bloody member before her nose.
‘I saw.’ She said. ‘I saw you cut yourself.’
He smiled at her in the mirror, a glittery smile, not meeting her eyes.
‘It’s a little trick we hairdressers have. When we’ve been driving ourselves and haven’t had time for a bite or a breather, we get cut, and off we go, to the toilet, to take a bite of Mars Bar or a cheese roll if the receptionist’s been considerate. Will you excuse me? I am faint for lack of food.’
Byatt quote: “People who write books are destroyers.”
MA is in a collection called “The Matisse Stories.”
. . . . .
Art Work (1993) by A.S. Byatt. A married couple, obsessed with colors, clash over their domestic servant, who is also obsessed with colors. Debbie, an art magazine mamager, and Robin, a painter, employ Ms. Brown as a housekeeper. Debbie relies heavily on Brown, while Robin is enraged by her presence. *SPOILER* Brown learns – or steals – enough art notions to become a greater success than both Debbie and Robin. *END SPOILER* I did not enjoy this color-soaked story. I found it pretentious and exhaustive with color descriptions. Byatt tried too hard to write a color theme, in my opinion.
In the front room, chanting to itself, for no one is watching it, the television is full on in mid-morning. Not loudly, there are rules about noise. The noise it is making is the willfully upbeat cheery squitter of female presenters of children’s TV, accented with regular, repetitive amazement, mixed in with the grunts and cackles and high-pitched squeaks of a flock of furry puppets, a cross-eyed magenta haystack with a snout, a kingfisher blue gerbil with a whirling tail, a torpid emerald green coiled serpent, with a pillar-box red dangling tongue and movable fringed eyelids. At regular intervals, between the bouts of presenter-squitter and puppet snorts and squawks, comes, analogous to the spin-cycle, the musical outbursts, a drumroll, a squeal on a woodwind, a percussion battery, a ta-ta ta TA, for punctuation, for a roseate full-frame with a line-coloured logo T-NE-TV.
Byatt quote: “I don’t believe that human beings are basically good, so I think all utopian movements are doomed to fail, but I am interested in them.”
AW is in a collection called “The Matisse Stories.”
. . . . .
The Chinese Lobster (1993) by A.S. Byatt. A student accuses a professor of sexual assault. Peggi Nollett, a student painter, accuses Perry Diss, an art professor, of sexually assaulting her in a formal complaint to Dr, Himmelbleau, the Dean of Women Students. Diss and Himmelbleau meet for lunch and discuss the charge. The story is framed with descriptions of captive, dying crustaceans. The symbolism escaped me; otherwise, an amusing read.
‘I am very anxious to know what you have to say in answer to her specific charge. And yes, I have seen Peggi Nollett. Frequently. And her work, on one occasion.’
‘Well then. If you have seen her you will know that I can have made no such – no such advances as she describes. Her skin is like a potato and her body is like a decaying potato, in all that great bundle of smocks and vests and knitwear and penitential hangings. Have you seen her legs and arms, Dr Himmelblau? They are bandages like mummies, they are all swollen with strappings and strings and then they are contained in nasty black greaves and gauntlets of plastic with buckles. You expect some awful yellow ooze to seep out between the layers, ready to be smeared on La Joie de vivre. And her hair, I do not think her hair can have been washed for some years. It is like a carefully preserved old frying pan, grease undisturbed by water. You cannot believe I could have brought myself to touch her, Dr Himmelblau?’
‘It is difficult, certainly.’
Byatt quote: “I think of writing simply in terms of pleasure. It’s the most important thing in my life, making things. Much as I love my husband and my children, I love them only because I am the person who makes these things. I, who I am, is the person that has the project of making a thing. Well, that’s putting it pompously – but constructing. I do see it in sort of three-dimensional structures. And because that person does that all the time, that person is able to love all these people.”
CL is in a collection called “The Matisse Stories.”