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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Djinn in
the Nightingale's Eye


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To purchase The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye

Title: The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye
Author: A.S.Byatt
Genre: Stories
Written: 1994
Length: 274 pages
Availability: The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye - US
The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye - UK
The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye - Canada
The Djinn In The Nightingale's Eye - India
Le Djinn dans l'oeil-de-rossignol - France
Der verliebte Dschinn - Deutschland
Tre storie fantastiche - Italia
  • Five Fairy Stories
  • Two of these stories -- The Glass Coffin and Gode's Story -- were originally published in Byatt's previous novel, Possession

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Our Assessment:

B+ : entertaining and clever, with some very nice touches

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. A+ 9/11/1997 Nancy Willard
The Spectator A 7/1/1995 Patricia Craig
TLS . 6/1/1995 Alev Adil
Virginia Quarterly Rev. . Spring/1998 .
The Washington Post A 8/2/1998 Tamsin Todd

  Review Consensus:

  Very enthusiastic.

  From the Reviews:
  • "When Byatt superimposes the fairy-tale style on contemporary material, events in the stories do not hark back to an earlier time. Instead, the magic of the earlier time is brought into our own. (...) In the title story, Byatt offers us a wonder indeed: she dramatizes both the theoretical aspects of the fairy tale and the living truth of it in the story itself. (...) The conversations between the genie and the scholar are beyond all praise, and the description of their lovemaking is a gem of exuberant metaphor and linguistic restraint." - Nancy Willard, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye is a cerebral extravaganza, bristling with ideas. For all its proliferation of marvels and metaphors, it keeps at least one foot on the ground -- a serviceable English foot." - Patricia Craig, The Spectator

  • "Unlike Marina Warner, who sees the fairy story as a space for social disruption, Byatt seems to experience it as an oppressive structure. (...) These stories are not entirely successful as fairy stories, but as an elegant reflection on the nature of narrative they are a triumph." - Alev Adil, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Byatt's writing is crystalline and splendidly imaginative." - Tamsin Todd, The Washington Post

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 Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye is a collection five stories, four of which are quite short and one (the title story) which is near novella length. The first two stories -- The Glass Coffin and Gode's Story -- may be familiar to readers, as they first appeared in Byatt's previous novel, Possession. They are varied types fairy tales (three begin: "Once upon a time ...", the two others: "There once was ..."), the shorter ones of the more traditional sort, the title-novella a modern take and tale.
       Byatt's fairy-tale tone, at least in the shorter stories, takes some getting used to. It rings fairly authentic, but these are not quite your usual bedtime tales (and it is not your usual Byatt-fare either). Byatt's imaginings are not too far-fetched, and she uses the form to create enjoyable little stories. Fairly clever and thoughtful, occasionally perhaps too consciously artful, the four small pieces are enjoyable -- but also quite small.
       The meat of the collection lies in the novella, which is a very successful piece. Dr. Gillian Perholt has a relatively happy if unremarkable existence. Her "business is storytelling". Not that she pens tales; rather she is "merely a narratologist, a being of secondary order". She is invited to a conference in Ankara, to consider 'Stories of Women's Lives' ("a pantechnicon title to make space for everyone, from every country, from every genre, from every time."), and gets more than she bargained for there.
       The conference goes much as expected, but Gillian Perholt picks up a souvenir, a dusty glass bottle (the "nightingale's eye" of the title refers also to the glass workshop where the bottle perhaps came from). A djinn is released from the confines of the bottle, and Dr. Perholt gets the traditional three wishes. Familiar with fairy-tale lore she takes care with her wishes, and puts them to fairly good use.
       Byatt has crafted a marvelous story here, the fairy-tale tone working particularly well when used in describing the late-20th century world. The story convinces on a number of levels, and is presented beautifully.
       An enjoyable collection, especially the title piece.

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The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye: Reviews: A.S.Byatt: Other books by A.S.Byatt under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Antonia Susan Byatt lived 1936 to 2023. Winner of the 1990 Booker Prize for the bestselling Possession, she was the author of numerous highly acclaimed works of fiction. She was the sister of author Margaret Drabble.

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