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Byatt dazzles us with all the voluptuous warmth, color, and sensuality of Matisse's art in this trio of stories from 1993. How difficult it is to write about the visual arts, and how admirably Byatt transcends that limitation here!
In "Medusa's Ankles," an aging Susannah visits the hair stylist to whom she has "entrusted her disintegration" in his Matisse-decorated salon. Little does she suspect that this will be the venue in which she experiences a dramatic catharsis.
The Matisse painting, "Le silence habité des maisons" provides the visual introduction to the story "Art Work," and its unlikely trio. On the first floor of a house in the Alma Road, a design editor for a magazine writes; upstairs her self-indulgent husband paints. Mrs. Brown, the housekeeper, whom these two look down upon from their lofty eminence, takes care of the dreary realities of childcare and cleaning. But the unregarded Mrs. Brown has talents of her own, as this family will discover.
"The Chinese Lobster" is a disturbing story of two academics who meet in a restaurant to discuss a troubled student who has some serious issues about Matisse, as well as a more distressing problem. The aquarium containing shellfish provides a visual metaphor for our detachment and indifference from those whom we do not wish to know, about those for whom we cannot find a reason to care.
I recommend this brief, intensively sensuous collection to fellow artists and lovers of Matisse's painting. Nadia May is perfect throughout, transposing visual and literary art into a delicious narration.
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