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  • Little Black Book of Stories
  • Written by A.S. Byatt
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  • Little Black Book of Stories
  • Written by A.S. Byatt
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307426635
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List Price: $11.99

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 256 | ISBN: 978-0-307-42663-5
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Like Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm, Isak Dinesen and Angela Carter, A. S. Byatt knows that fairy tales are for grownups. And in this ravishing collection she breathes new life into the form.

Little Black Book of Stories offers shivers along with magical thrills. Leaves rustle underfoot in a dark wood: two middle-aged women, childhood friends reunited by chance, venture into a dark forest where once, many years before, they saw–or thought they saw–something unspeakable. Another woman, recently bereaved, finds herself slowly but surely turning into stone. A coolly rational ob-gyn has his world pushed off-axis by a waiflike art student with her own ideas about the uses of the body. Spellbinding, witty, lovely, terrifying, the Little Black Book of Stories is Byatt at the height of her craft.

Excerpt

The Thing in the Forest

There were once two little girls who saw, or believed they saw, a thing in a forest. The two little girls were evacuees, who had been sent away from the city by train, with a large number of other children. They all had their names attached to their coats with safetypins, and they carried little bags or satchels, and the regulation gas-mask. They wore knitted scarves and bonnets or caps, and many had knitted gloves attached to long tapes which ran along their sleeves, inside their coats, and over their shoulders and out, so that they could leave their ten woollen fingers dangling, like a spare pair of hands, like a scarecrow. They all had bare legs and scuffed shoes and wrinkled socks. Most had wounds on their knees in varying stages of freshness and scabbiness. They were at the age when children fall often and their knees were unprotected. With their suitcases, some of which were almost too big to carry, and their other impedimenta, a doll, a toy car, a comic, they were like a disorderly dwarf regiment, stomping along the platform.

The two little girls had not met before, and made friends on the train. They shared a square of chocolate, and took alternate bites at an apple. One gave the other the inside page of her Beano. Their names were Penny and Primrose. Penny was thin and dark and taller, possibly older, than Primrose, who was plump and blonde and curly. Primrose had bitten nails, and a velvet collar to her dressy green coat. Penny had a bloodless transparent paleness, a touch of blue in her fine lips. Neither of them knew where they were going, nor how long the journey might take. They did not even know why they were going, since neither of their mothers had quite known how to explain the danger to them. How do you say to your child, I am sending you away, because enemy bombs may fall out of the sky, because the streets of the city may burn like forest fires of brick and timber, but I myself am staying here, in what I believe may be daily danger of burning, burying alive, gas, and ultimately perhaps a grey army rolling in on tanks over the suburbs, or sailing its submarines up our river, all guns blazing? So the mothers (who did not resemble each other at all) behaved alike, and explained nothing, it was easier. Their daughters they knew were little girls, who would not be able to understand or imagine.

The girls discussed on the train whether it was a sort of holiday or a sort of punishment, or a bit of both. Penny had read a book about Boy Scouts, but the children on the train did not appear to be Brownies or Wolf Cubs, only a mongrel battalion of the lost. Both little girls had the idea that these were all perhaps not very good children, possibly being sent away for that reason. They were pleased to be able to define each other as 'nice'. They would stick together, they agreed. Try to sit together, and things.

The train crawled sluggishly further and further away from the city and their homes. It was not a clean train - the upholstery of their carriage had the dank smell of unwashed trousers, and the gusts of hot steam rolling backwards past their windows were full of specks of flimsy ash, and sharp grit, and occasional fiery sparks that pricked face and fingers like hot needles if you opened the window. It was very noisy too, whenever it picked up a little speed. The engine gave great bellowing sighs, and the invisible wheels underneath clicked rhythmically and monotonously, tap-tap-tap-CRASH, tap-tap-tap-CRASH. The window-panes were both grimy and misted up. The train stopped frequently, and when it stopped, they used their gloves to wipe rounds, through which they peered out at flooded fields, furrowed hillsides and tiny stations whose names were carefully blacked out, whose platforms were empty of life.

The children did not know that the namelessness was meant to baffle or delude an invading army. They felt - they did not think it out, but somewhere inside them the idea sprouted - that the erasure was because of them, because they were not meant to know where they were going or, like Hansel and Gretel, to find the way back. They did not speak to each other of this anxiety, but began the kind of conversation children have about things they really disliked, things that upset, or disgusted, or frightened them. Semolina pudding with its grainy texture, mushy peas, fat on roast meat. Listening to the stairs and the window-sashes creaking in the dark or the wind. Having your head held roughly back over the basin to have your hair washed, with cold water running down inside your liberty bodice. Gangs in playgrounds. They felt the pressure of all the other alien children in all the other carriages as a potential gang. They shared another square of chocolate, and licked their fingers, and looked out at a great white goose flapping its wings beside an inky pond.

The sky grew dark grey and in the end the train halted. The children got out, and lined up in a crocodile, and were led to a mud-coloured bus. Penny and Primrose managed to get a seat together, although it was over the wheel, and both of them began to feel sick as the bus bumped along snaking country lanes, under whipping branches, dark leaves on dark wooden arms on a dark sky, with torn strips of thin cloud streaming across a full moon, visible occasionally between them.


From the Hardcover edition.
A.S. Byatt

About A.S. Byatt

A.S. Byatt - Little Black Book of Stories

Photo © Michael Trevillion

A.S. Byatt is internationally acclaimed as a novelist, short-story writer and critic. Her books include Possession and the quartet of The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman. She was appointed Dame of the British Empire in 1999.
Praise

Praise

“A delight. . . . Byatt's stories are provoking and alarming, richly yet tautly rendered. . . .[She] has the sheer narrative skill to raise the hairs on the back of your neck and make your pulse race.” –The New York Times Book Review

“Bewitching . . . immensely readable, fiercely intelligent, and studded with astonishing, refracting images. . . . A virtuoso performance by a master storyteller.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Supremely elegant. . . . Byatt peels back the surface of everyday life–and what she reveals may disturb your sleep.” –Entertainment Weekly

“Striking . . . marvelous . . . impressive. . . . Byatt’s Gothic touch transforms commonplace English settings and characters into unsettling zones of loss and fear.” –The Boston Globe

“A storyteller who could keep a sultan on the edge of his throne for a thousand and one nights.” –The New York Times Book Review

“Scrumptious . . . these are raw, tough, disruptive stories about memory, duty, madness, guilt, cruelty and loss, stories that grope and reel, that throb with secret longings, secret histories, artistic yearnings and the thrashes and groans of a stinking damnation in the underbrush.”–Miami Herald

“Her finest collection yet. . . . Bleak then surprisingly funny, very dark indeed then full of inconceivable sources of light.” –The Guardian

“Beautifully crafted. . . [Little Black Book of Stories] prods at the tender points where art, pain, and desire intersect.” –The Financial Times

“A potent alchemy of magic, horror and sensual delight.” –Elle

“Captivating . . . disturbing yet funny . . . an utterly compelling read.” –Harper’s Bazaar

“A delightful surprise. . . . A heady infusion of mythology and everyday life, with a strong undercurrent of horror. . . . Moving, thought-provoking, witty, and shocking all at once.” –The Sunday Telegraph

“Haunting . . . Astonishing . . . Vivid . . . Moving . . . [Byatt] is an athlete of the imagination, breaking barriers without apparent effort.” –The Nation

“A sophisticated and powerfully realized work. . . . A bravura performance of imaginative artistry.” –The Times Literary Supplement

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