A.S. Byatt has died. If you have not read her work, do because:

  1. Her “Possession” is marvellous: two intellectual journeys and love stories intertwined across two ages, with two couples very different at the surface, intriguingly similar on the inside .. a marvel of creativity and insights.
  2. And as we say in Arabic: it has something of its name: After reading “Possession”, many ideas from Byatt’s imagination possess parts of the reader’s psyche.
  3. Her “Angels and Insects” is, I think, one of the most intellectually daring novels – well, novellas - in 20th century English literature. Seeing a family through certain behavioural patterns of insects .. this does not sound appealing .. but do not make the mistake of succumbing to this silly idea and decide to ignore the book .. “Angels and Insects” is a rich exposition of extremes of human feelings: fear, resignation, lethargy, but also drive and ambition and defiance, and beneath them, the will to actualise one’s truth .. Byatt’s exposition is deceptively smooth - and in a framework that borders on the weird .. and yet, the story and how it unfolds, and the language Byatt deploys to seep that story into our minds, are illuminating and enlivening.
  4. There is joy in reading the work of a novelist who did not care for the demands of the commercial world. Byatt’s publishers, especially of her early work – hardly expected great commercial success. At the beginning of her career, Byatt’s work was the sort of novels highbrow publishers, particularly in England, put forward to enrich intellectual experimentation and, often in their assessments, to engage a tiny sliver of readers, not an important segment in the market for books, but of value in influential social salons. The beauty of Byatt’s work, however - and perhaps her genius - is that although her work certainly fit that type, her novels have proved of wide appeal. They indeed stirred interesting social salons, but they also resonated with wide social segments ..
  5. .. and the appeal lives on. Byatt started working in the 1960s. Her big success, with “Possession”, came in the early 1990s. And her work continues to sell well. In many bookstores – from the charming yet haughty in Chelsea in London, to the grubby yet beaming with independent mindedness in many northern English towns, Byatt remains a favourite of informed sales staff. You’d get a smile of knowing approval when you place one of her novels at the counter to pay.
  6. Byatt was never taken by fame. This is rare, especially among the biggest names in English literature in the past three decades. She did not follow literary trends; hardly interacted with mass media; and eschewed the positioning of a literary star. She sustained her respectful intellectual independence and suspicion of political and social fads, often embracing intellectual aloofness - which, for many deep minds, is a needed, blissful refuge.
  7. And then there is her language .. Byatt’s sentences are convoluted – positively so. Simplicity is often wonderful, a mark of intelligence and humility. But complexity is often necessary, and beautiful. Byatt’s mind certainly did not appreciate simplifications when complexity was needed. I would venture and say, Byatt did not respect those who sought simplicity when complexity was of the essence of what was being presented. And human psyche is complex; human relationships are complicated. Respecting truth often necessitates having complex thinking and not shying away from presenting such complexity. Byatt was truthful, and so her thought was often, following truth, complex. Her sentences retained that complexity in thinking. But she enveloped complexity with luxuriant beauty – which in itself, merits reading and absorbing.
  8. Delving into Byatt’s novels, and following the flow of her thinking and the evolution of her views, particularly on our inner emotions and how they shape our behavioural pattens, is an education, in the old understanding of what an education is: an apprenticeship: watching, observing, and then experimenting, practicing, until one reaches the threshold of mastering. And so is our education with Byatt’s work. We revisit a novel, re-read a sentence, link a thought pattern from the early 1990s to one that she gave us decades later. We learn and grow in such a journey. Valuable insights, patterns, and ideas are educed from the words we read and the ideas we absorb, as well as from within.
  9. Byatt’s work is a cult to which millions belong. Join it, for you will be enriched.