• Saturday, June 15, 2024


Award-winning UK author A S Byatt dies in London

By: Mohnish Singh

A S Byatt, one of the most ambitious writers of her generation, died on Thursday at her home in London. Her novel Possession won the Booker Prize and gained her international acclaim as a novelist. She was 87 years old, The New York Times reported.

Chatto & Windus, her longtime publisher, announced her death in a statement on Friday.

Byatt was a brilliant critic and scholar who broke the academic mould by publishing 11 novels and six collections of short stories.

“I am not an academic who happens to have written a novel,” she bristled in an interview with The New York Times Magazine in 1991. “I am a novelist who happens to be quite good academically.”

Possession, an unexpected best-seller, was in 2002 adapted into a feature film directed by Neil LaBute and starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

Philip Haas had earlier made an Oscar-nominated film based on a novella from her book Angels and Insects (1992). Byatt’s profile as an author who broadened the breadth of modern British fiction was enhanced by both film adaptations.

A S Byatt was born on August 24, 1936, in Sheffield, England. Her father, barrister and judge John F Drabble, published two books himself. Kathleen (Bloor) Drabble, her mother, was a teacher and housewife.

Byatt produced and edited numerous works of literary critique, including two books on British writer Iris Murdoch and one on William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s friendship. She along with Nicholas Warren also co-edited a book of articles about George Eliot. From 1972 to 1983, she was a senior lecturer in English at University College.

According to The New York Times, Byatt was named a Dame of the British Empire in 1999 for her contributions to current English writing, while some of her most popular works were yet to come.

Her novel The Children’s Book (2009), based on the life of the popular children’s book author E Nesbit, incorporates fairy tales into social commentary on British utopian movements of the early 20th century. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2009 and received the James Tait Black Prize in 2010.

A Stone Woman, a widely anthologized story from Byatt’s collection Little Black Book of Stories (2003), addresses themes of grief and ageing through the metamorphosis of a lady into stone after the death of her mother.

The collection Medusa’s Ankles: Selected Stories published in 2021, was her most recent work.

Byatt is survived by her husband, three daughters, Antonia Byatt, Isabel Pinner, and Miranda Duffy, as well as a younger sister, Helen Langdon, an art historian and author, and a brother, Richard Drabble, a barrister.

Byatt believed she had accomplished a lot by becoming a writer by the time she was in her early 80s.

“I think most of my life I’ve felt very lucky because I expected not to be able to write books,” she said in a 2016 interview. “And I never really wanted to do anything else.”

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