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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Shadow of the Sun

by
A.S.Byatt


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Shadow of the Sun



Title: The Shadow of the Sun
Author: A.S.Byatt
Genre: Novel
Written: 1964
Length: 305 pages
Availability: The Shadow of the Sun - US
The Shadow of the Sun - UK
The Shadow of the Sun - Canada
The Shadow of the Sun - India
L'ombre du soleil - France
  • Originally published as: Shadow of a Sun
  • The new edition includes an Inroduction by A.S.Byatt

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Our Assessment:

B : much of the writing very solid, but still flails a bit for a story

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 2/8/1964 Martin Levin
The New Yorker . 26/9/1964 .
TLS . 9/1/1964 .


  From the Reviews:
  • "The author goes to great lengths of prolixity to define her characters, but fails to breathe life into them." - Martin Levin, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Mrs Byatt feels deeply for her characters and has a thoughtful, unhurried way of conveying precisely why they are worth caring about. Shadow of a Sun may be at times uncomfortably like the kind of novel Miss Elizabeth Bowen would have done better, but it suggests that before long Mrs Byatt may achieve a considerable reputation." - Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Shadow of the Sun (originally published as Shadow of a Sun) was A.S.Byatt's first novel, published in 1964 -- but, as she explains in an introduction to the new edition of the book, written (at least the first draft) while she was an undergraduate at Cambridge (1954 to 1957).
       The two part tale sends its young heroine, Anna Severell, to Cambridge too -- though with considerably less success than Byatt had. (Her story can also be compared to another Byatt-Cambridge-lass, Frederica Potter in Still Life (see our review).)
       Anna is the daughter of the renowned novelist Henry: he's her "distant and largely unknown father", and she does suffer some from being in his shadow. She got herself kicked out of school -- for running away without telling anyone -- but over the course of the novel gets her act together a bit and does finally win a place at Cambridge.
       One of the people to give her a push in that direction is Oliver Canning, a summer guest who comes to stay with the Severells with his wife, Margaret. Oliver tutors Anna and helps her along: over the summer it remains a fairly uneasy relationship of sulky girl and well-meaning know-it-all. Matters are complicated by the relationships between the adults: Henry the artist and Oliver as friend and critic; Oliver and his wife, who has to hide the glossy women's magazines she enjoys from her husband because he "believed the reading of such papers to be positively morally wrong", and even Henry and his wife, Caroline.
       The first part of the book focusses on the summer this group spends largely together. Oliver and Anna work together much of the time, and eventually it is even suggested that Anna return with him and Margaret to London, as a sort of substitute daughter. That comes to nothing, but much of the book is about Anna's attempt to escape from under her father's shadow -- and from the late-adolescent listless and aimlessness that's taken hold of her at home. Oliver warns that she must get away: she'll just be "a ghost, a shadow" if she remains breathing her "father's rarefied air".
       The second part sees Anna at Cambridge, where she still can't find her way. Here matters are complicated when Oliver again appears, and this time their relationship turns into a sexual (and not-quite-romantic) one. Margaret's worries as her marriage collapses without her understanding much of what is going on and the Severell's concerns about their daughter add to the tension -- which culminate in Anna suffering the not too surprising consequences of a sexual relationship and then accepting a marriage proposal. Yes, it does get almost melodramatic there for a while.
       The strengths of the novel lie in numerous penetrating, strong scenes. Byatt goes on at some length in analysing characters and their actions, and much of this she does well. There are also several nicely framed scenes -- a dark and rainy encounter between Anna and Oliver, lost Henry found again, a Cambridge party that doesn't go as hoped for -- though many of these are too obviously staged to fully convince.
       The story, too, remains too artificial: a forced novel-plot conceived by someone who has read a good many novels but doesn't have any real material of her own yet. Details ring true, especially about Anna, but the character is forced into circumstances Byatt clearly only imagined -- and at this stage she wasn't novelist enough to get away with relying so much on purely speculative imagination.
       The novel plods along, in part, but on the whole is solid and a decent read. Certainly of some interest.

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Links:

The Shadow of the Sun: Reviews: A.S.Byatt: Other books by A.S.Byatt under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       British author Antonia Susan Byatt was born in 1936. Winner of the 1990 Booker Prize for the bestselling Possession, she is the author of numerous highly acclaimed works of fiction. She is the sister of author Margaret Drabble.

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