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The Reader, once more

In the last issue of Prospect, Frederic Raphael declared that anybody recommending The Reader must have a tin ear for fiction and a blind eye for evil. AS Byatt was incensed-The Reader, she argues, is a beautifully constructed fable about guilt

By AS Byatt   April 1998

The reader is a precisely and beautifully constructed fable about guilt, public and private. It is, like its narrator, meticulous, reflective and intelligent. It is also full of what Henry James called “felt life,” urgent, messy and painful.

It opens with an encounter between a 15-year-old boy and a woman in her late 30s. He is recovering from jaundice and vomits outside the building where she lives. The woman grabs him “roughly,” cleans him up, and makes him help her to clean the pavement. He sees her putting on her stockings, through a keyhole, and is haunted by this image.…

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