Review

The Biographer's Tale

by

THE
BIOGRAPHER'S TALE is a tough read. Even though A.S. Byatt has made
a fine literary career setting up stories about the men and women
who choose a life of the mind over a life of physical pleasures, it
is difficult to digest all the intricacies of the gray matters
chronicled here.
This
particular tale concerns one Phineas G. Nanson, who has decided
that the day-in, day-out happenings in his ongoing postmodern
literary theory career have become boring. Instead, he rails to the
universe that he will now simply Joe Friday himself into working
only with "facts" --- so he spends days mining the life of
Victorian traveler, writer, and diplomat Elmer Bole, only to decide
that he is destined to write a biography of Bole's own biographer,
Scholes Destry-Scholes.
The
man behind the man, the biographer behind the biography, is a
distinctly significant choice for him. Sure, ideas are not facts,
and the dogged determination that he shows in pursuing his new
subject matter is admirable, but things don't quite go according to
Nanson's tidy little plan.
In
the real world, Nanson must make some money while he pursues the
biographer and the biographer's tales, which are numerous. While
fulfilling the hackneyed duties of a travel agent and linking up
with a Fulla --- an eccentric bee taxonomist (okay, who doesn't
have to look this one up?) --- from Sweden, he spends considerable
time putting Destry-Scholes' notes and notecards into some strange
order, alternating hitting upon some important elements of the
man's life and watching them disappear.
There were mamy moments when I wanted to grab a copy of Stephen
King's DREAMCATCHER instead of reading on. Byatt is an
intellectual, no bones about it, and the endless stream of big
words and fancy phraseology can cause some wear and tear on the
general reader. This is the kind of book that requires you to spend
a lot of time turning back pages, making sure that you really
understood what was just said, maybe even taking a break to look up
some esoteric word in the dictionary.

When
I was an English major in college, I enjoyed this kind of tough
read. At this point in my life, it's a little harder to find
pleasure and enjoyment in a read this difficult. However, since
Byatt's other books have often entertained me, I did keep going. In
the end, I found THE BIOGRAPHER'S TALE an intricately woven tale.
It won't catch the fancy of all readers, but if you stay with it,
you will feel as if you have scaled some low-level mountain that
gives you some satisfaction.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 21, 2011

The Biographer's Tale
by

  • Publication Date: November 30, -0001
  • Genres: Fiction, Literary Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0375725083
  • ISBN-13: 9780375725081