This afternoon, courtesy of the Rector of Exeter College, Oxford, I sat in the shade in her lovely garden, overlooked by the Sheldonian and the Museum of the History of Science, with a group of other Exonians, listening to A.S. Byatt answering our questions.
But when I asked about The Shadow of the Sun earlier today, A.S. Byatt's reply made me think. She talked of historical imagination, and said that it was a novel very much of the 1950s and 60s: one that in effect could have had no other end. The character, as she pointed out, was not as strong as she was herself, a rather battered girl, who took the only way open to her. I think that this is what makes A.S. Byatt a great novelist, rather than merely good: she takes hard decisions on behalf of her characters, that are true to who they are, rather than bowing to sentiment or desire for the world to be other than as it is. It rather fits The Children's Book niggle too - even before the suicide, when reading I had wondered how on earth this character could escape the corner into which their (used as an impersonal pronoun to avoid revealing the gender) personality had driven them.
So, hang it all, I think she's done for both those niggles. Byatt is a brilliant and intelligent writer. I cannot recommend her work highly enough.