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Byatts The Matisse Stories, first published in1993, features three short stories, each indirectly describing a painting by Henri Matisse that has inspired Byatt at some point during her life. These tales feature Matisse as a background in the worlds of a number of everyday people and the minor crisis which evolve around them.
This is simply a beautifully written, spell binding book. I picked up this book because of a love of Matisse akin to Byatt. My positive awareness of the reputation of this author meant that it didnt stay on the shelf for long. A short book I devoured it in two short sittings and it left me desperate for more.
The first story "Medusa's Ankles" is set in a hairdressers and explores that weird chit-chat based relationship from the clients point of view. Matisses rosy pink nude hangs in the salon and is admired by Susannah. Her male hair dresser regales her with stories about his love affair with a younger women, as he chops, prunes and styles. One day he tells her that the salon is due for a refurbishment and will be shut for a month. When Susannah returns the pink nude is gone and things are never quite the same after that
The second story "Art Work" introduces Debbie, a young house wife who works from home as a design editor for a magazine, supporting both her husband, Robin and their children with her income. Robin works from home and is possessive about his space. He is humoured by the invaluable housekeeper Mrs. Brown. But she is keeping a secret of her own .
The third and sadly final story is that of "Chinese Lobster" which tells the more sobering tale of a sexual harassment claim. A young art student files a suit against an art professor, the elderly Dr. Himmelblau. Another teacher, Dr Peregrine chooses to discuss the compliant which she believes is false, over dinner .
I was surprised to find that the titles of these stories do not specifically relate to the titles of Matisses work. Its a shame because I think this would have been a nice touch. Nevertheless I recommend this book to anyone with a love of good literature. Art is not a requirement to appreciation in this case.
A.S.Byatt won the 1990 Booker Prize for Possession: A Romance, which also won the Irish Times International Fiction Prize in the same year. She has written a number of other novels, literary critiques and collections of short stories. The latter include Sugar and Other Stories (1987); The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye (1994) and Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice (1998). I have Possession at home and I intend to read this and hopefully some of Byatts other works soon.
The author of this lovely book was christened Antonia Susan Drabble on August 24 1936, in Sheffield, England. She was educated at both Oxford and Cambridge, in addition to the States. She changed her name when she married Charles Rayner Byatt in 1959 and she currently lives in London with her second husband.
The book can be purchased from most good retailers at £6.99 and is also available in audio format The ISBN is 067976223X.
Three stories from Byatt, in each of which a woman's life is touched in some way by the paintings of Henri Matisse.