All of the five ""fairy stories"" in Byatt's new collection adopt the conventions of folk or fairy tales: magic enchantments; the granting of three wishes; adventures that involve danger. And as might be expected from a writer of Byatt's talent and interests, several of them deal with the magic of storytelling itself. The title piece, a novella, is the most surprising and appealing. Middle-aged British narratologist Gillian Perholt acquires a beautiful bottle when she attends a convention in Turkey. The djinn she later releases not only grants her three wishes but also teaches her how to avoid the classic folk-tale irony by which the wisher lives to regret the fulfillment of his or her desires. This complex, sometimes prolix, oddly upbeat tale also demonstrates other Byatt preoccupations: protagonists who are academics; stories within stories; philosophic digressions; the theme of the inevitability of destiny. As with all of Byatt's work, there is a fierce intelligence at play, and beautifully nuanced prose. The other standout here is the gently ironic ""The Story of the Eldest Princess,'' in which the clever woman, who realizes that the first person to be sent on a quest is always unsuccessful, subverts the conventions and outwits her fate. (In her acknowledgments, Byatt confesses: ""I have always worried about being the eldest of three sisters.""). ""Dragon's Breath"" has a brilliantly imaginative description of a volcanic eruption. The other two titles are charming but less memorable. Woodcut illustrations and a format similar to that of The Matisse Stories make for an attractive book. Author tour. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997 Release date: 10/01/1997 Genre: Fiction
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