In three masterfully written stories loosely inspired by Matisse paintings, Byatt (Possession) dazzles with her evocation of sensuous detail while adroitly emphasizing the interconnectedness of life and art. In each one, a woman teetering on the edge of losing her emotional equilibrium finds a small nugget of comfort after some unsettling surprises. Susannah, the troubled middle-aged heroine of ``Medusa's Ankle,'' is drawn into a hairdressing salon by a Matisse reproduction on the wall. Byatt understands that a woman is most acutely vulnerable looking at her unadorned image in a mirror, and when the self-absorbed hairdresser confides that he plans to leave his wife for a young lover, Susannah's sudden outburst as she contemplates the loss of her youth, her attractiveness and her future is movingly real. Dr. Gerda Himmelblau, ``a solitary intellectual nearing retirement,'' has a quieter epiphany in ``The Chinese Lobster,'' but it is facilitated by a man whose sensibility about art and life she shares. Two doughty women captivate the reader in ``Art Work,'' a delightfully surprising tale in which the ``received'' nature of art and a woman's role as muse are questioned with amusing insight. Byatt's lapidary prose shimmers with the colors she describes so intensely. Her understanding of human relationships is no less brilliant. Line drawings not seen by PW. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/27/1995 Release date: 03/01/1995 Genre: Fiction
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