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This electrifying novel stands on its own, while forming a triumphant conclusion to Byatt's great quartet depicting the forces in English life from the early 1950s to 1970.

While Frederica - the spirited heroine of The VIRGIN IN THE GARDEN, STILL LIFE and BABEL TOWER - falls almost by accident into a career in television in London, tumultuous events in her home county of Yorkshire threaten to change her life, and those of the people she loves. In the late 1960s the world begins to split. Near the university, where the scientists Luk and Jacqueline are studying snails and neurones and the working of the brain, an 'anti-university' springs up. On the high moors nearby a gentle therapeutic community is taken over by a turbulent, charismatic leader. Visions of blood and flames, of mirrors and doubles, share the refracting energy of Frederica's mosaic-like television shows. The languages of religion, myth and fairy-tale overlap with the terms of science and the new computer age. Darkness and light are in perpetual tension and the meaning of love itself seems to vanish; people flounder - often comically - to find their true sexual, intellectual and emotional identity.-The focus of these novels first widened from the old nuclear family to the experimental group and now narrows again to reveal the different, modern patterns of intimacy which emerged in these years. Through her wayward, lovingly-drawn characters and breath-taking twists of plot, she illuminates the effervescence of the 1960s- both its excitements and its dangers - as no one has done before. Magical, thought-provoking, and with spine-chilling moments, A WHISTLING WOMAN is the ultimate novel of ideas made flesh - gloriously sensual, sexy and scary, bursting with ideas, contradictions, scientific discoveries, ethical conflicts, sly humour and wonderful humanity.


A vast, intricate and highly readable tale of intellectual curiosity spanning the tensions between ideas and religion, science and television, anarchy and the intellectual establishment, the counterculture and academia, visionaries and madness The hothouse atmosphere of experimentation and the quest for new ways of seeing and being is tackled with questioning perception.

Stephanie Merritt, The Observer

Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    September 1, 2003


    432 pages

    RRP $24.99

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