This is an early, actually very early novel by the writer AS Byatt. She was only about 30 when she wrote this, and it’s about two sisters, a writer and a literary critic, who find themselves reconnected in their late 30s after a few years apart because of the various circumstances of their lives. Julia, the writer, is looking for inspiration for her new novel, one in which she wished to greatly interrogate the interorities of domestic space. Her sister, Cassandra, has found herself invited to a help produce and work on a television program centered on contemporary criticism. This dichotomy of the writer and the critics reads pretty clearly to me as the split that AS Byatt herself probably feels in a lot of ways, especially as a young writer, between critical dialectic and the production of culture. It’s also interesting to me because she’s also quite well-known for being an Iris Murdoch expert, who also struggled with this dichotomy in her own writing. In addition to that, this novel feels pretty squarely as deeply influenced by Murdoch as well, who had produced a number of novels by this point and is some twenty years older than Byatt.
So all that comes in the novel, but the novel is much richer than all that and involves a lot of different discussions of culture and literature. One of the most interesting parts is watching the development of the television series in which Cassandra is deeply concerned about being held accountable for opinions and ideas in a live space, in which ideas might well be hatched out, but with the presence of recording, become sort of codified. It’s an interesting early discussion of this phenomenon, which is certainly quite recent in the human history.