Cover image for Elementals : stories of fire and ice
Elementals : stories of fire and ice
Byatt, A. S. (Antonia Susan), 1936-
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [1998]

Physical Description:
229 pages : illustrations ; 19 cm
General Note:
"Originally published in Great Britain by Chatto & Windus Limited, London, ... in 1998"--T.p. verso.
Crocodile tears -- A lamia in the Cévennes -- Cold -- Baglady -- Jael -- Christ in the house of Martha and Mary.
Subject Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Library
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A new volume of stories from A. S. Byatt is always a joy, and this one is rich and rare indeed. In the same distinctive format as The Matisse Stories and The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye, this collection deals with betrayal and loyalty, quests and longings, loneliness and passion -- the mysterious absences at the heart of the fullest lives. A woman walks away from her previous existence and encounters an ice-blond stranger from a secretive world; a schoolgirl draws a blood-filled picture of the biblical heroine Jael; a swimming pool reveals a beauteous monster in its depths. The settings of Elementals range from the heat of Provence in summer to the cold forests of Scandinavia, from chalk-strewn classrooms to herb-scented hillsides, from suburban streets to rocky wilds. A marvelous present for all A. S. Byatt fans, this magical collection will also serve as a perfect introduction to one of our finest contemporary writers.

Author Notes

A.S. Byatt was born on August 24, 1936 in Sheffield, England. She received a B.A. from Newnham College, Cambridge in 1957, did graduate study at Bryn Mawr College from 1957-58, and attended Somerville College, Oxford from 1958-59. She was a staff member in the extra-mural department at the University of London from 1962-71. From 1968-69, she was also a part-time lecturer in the liberal studies department of the Central School of Art and Design, London. She was a lecturer at University College from 1972-80 and then senior lecturer from 1981-83.

She became a full-time writer in 1983. Her works include The Biographer's Tale, The Virgin in the Garden, Babel Tower, A Whistling Woman, and The Children's Book. She also wrote numerous collections of short stories including Sugar and Other Stories, The Matisse Stories, The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye, Elementals, and Little Black Book of Stories. Byatt received the English Speaking Union fellowship in 1957-58, the Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1983, the Silver Pen Award for Still Life, and the Booker Prize for Possession: A Romance in 1990.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In her latest collection, Byatt once again draws on her love of fine arts and fairy tales to spin six elaborate and erudite stories. Matisse, the inspiration for her 1993 collection, makes a cameo appearance here; Diego Velazquez and an assortment of biblical and mythical characters take turns taking center stage. The result is, at first glance, a less tidy collection than the earlier The Matisse Stories (1995) in which Byatt based her triptych of prose sketches on the modernist master. But Elementals has its own charm, not the least because it showcases Byatt's ability to get to the heart of the human condition every time she writes, no matter what she's writing. The subtitle calls these "stories of fire and ice," and each is, in some way, a study in contrast that highlights the sense of alienation so many of us feel. For example, in "Cold" , a princess whose well-being depends on a cold climate puts her life in jeopardy by marrying a prince from a desert kingdom. In "Crocodile Tears," an Englishwoman who witnesses her husband's death from a heart attack feels compelled to flee to the south of France before she can deal with her loss. But even though all the protagonists seem to find themselves thrown from their own physical and emotional element, they also find small peace in the aesthetics of daily life. The collection ends with a beautiful story in which Byatt imagines that the culinary artistry of a lowly house cook served as the inspiration for the beautiful dishes that appear in Velazquez's famous Christ in the House of Martha and Mary. Byatt is the kind of writer who truly believes art redeems and is fortunate to see art everywhere. --Veronica Scrol

Publisher's Weekly Review

Brilliantly mingling reality with the surreal atmosphere of folktales and fairy tales, Byatt follows The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye with an equally virtuosic and beguiling collection. The subtitle is the key to the oppositions that inspire these six stories. They teem with contrasts between inexplicable compulsions and societal norms, the extremes of love and hate, the mysterious tension between the rational and the mystic, and between the creation of art and the demands of daily life. Byatt's meticulous control of language gives these narratives a visual and tactile dimension that's almost palpable. Permeated with descriptions of colors, temperatures and atmosphere, full of sensuous imagery, each is an immersion in a richly imagined world. A compulsion to flee from the reality of her husband's dead body sends the protagonist of "Crocodile Tears" to sun-drenched Nimes, where she meets a man from Norway who is researching folktales common to both regions. Slowly and agonizingly, each regains the ability to deal with loss. In "Cold," Fiammarosa, the princess of a mythical kingdom, can exist only in a frigid atmosphere, but she marries a prince from a desert realm where burning sand is spun into glass; the contrastÄand the eventual mingling of the two polaritiesÄis conveyed in passages of gorgeous description. The protagonists of most of these stories work in the creative arts or have strong ties to literature. (Interestingly, the central character of the one disappointing tale, "Baglady," a nightmarish scenario that lacks resolution, does not.) "The world is full of light and life, and the true crime is not to be interested in it," says a painter, one of the characters in "Christ in the House of Martha and Mary." Byatt conveys this conviction via an unfettered imagination, an intense lyricism combined with distilled and crystalline prose, and an astute grasp of the contradictory impulses of human nature. Six illustrations. Author tour. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

More stories from the master writer. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.