I'm an English professor, so I love literary books, but this one about English professors is the epitome of everything that is wrong with my profession. There are a lot of people trying to become the guardians of "special knowledge" that they don't want others to discover or critique.
There are also a lot of people trying to examine literary works in microscopic detail. This literary criticism is described slowly and excruciatingly by Byatt and it's all the more uninteresting because it's based around fictional authors. Truthfully, in real life, the type of criticism she describes does three things:
1. Looks only at a small sample of the work that does not speak to the work itself, the genre, or the author (Usually called a "close study")
2. Excludes other themes or concerns to look at something small which only the critic thinks is important (for example, the female gaze as written in third-person narratives by octogenarian male authors in early Victorian England)
3. Takes all the joy out of reading
Unfortunately, this is encouraged in colleges today. It is something which I abhor, but which this author loves. I could maybe get past that if the pacing, plot, or characterization were better, but alas, they are not. This book is dull as well as pretentious. I tried to read it three times only to realize I was only 7 hours through and could not withstand the last 14 hours.
The one bright spot is the use of fairy tales throughout the text. Although also somewhat pretentious and written with an odd feminist slant, these were somewhat charming. I only wish that a better book could have built around them.
Although it was an interesting book, listening to it as an audiobook was a little too much for me. There were a lot of flowery language that got to be too much for me.
Be advised: This book is not for the "faint of intellect". I've had this selection for over a year, unable to get by the first 30 minutes. It is deeply poetic, highly literary and makes continuous reference to classic literature and academic literature frameworks and devices. That being said, the book is a mesmerizing portrait in language, visual imagery and human connection, painted with poetic metaphor. Definitely an instance where the audio lends value to the written novel--Leisham not only excels at character portrayal but her voice breathes life as masterfully fluid brushstroke. Byatt's command of multiple writing genres is nothing less than amazing--will be one of my all time-favorites. BTW, it also happens to be one heck-of-a romantic tragedy with a bittersweet ending (spoiler)! (tear)