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The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye: Five Fairy Stories

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The magnificent title story of this collection of fairy tales for adults describes the strange and uncanny relationship between its extravagantly intelligent heroine--a world renowned scholar of the art of story-telling--and the marvelous being that lives in a mysterious bottle, found in a dusty shop in an Istanbul bazaar. As A.S. Byatt renders this relationship with a powerful combination of erudition and passion, she makes the interaction of the natural and the supernatural seem not only convincing, but inevitable.

The companion stories in this collection each display different facets of Byatt's remarkable gift for enchantment. They range from fables of sexual obsession to allegories of political tragedy; they draw us into narratives that are as mesmerizing as dreams and as bracing as philosophical meditations; and they all us to inhabit an imaginative universe astonishing in the precision of its detail, its intellectual consistency, and its splendor.

274 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1994

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About the author

A.S. Byatt

173 books2,225 followers
A.S. Byatt (Antonia Susan Byatt) is internationally known for her novels and short stories. Her novels include the Booker Prize winner Possession, The Biographer’s Tale and the quartet, The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman, and her highly acclaimed collections of short stories include Sugar and Other Stories, The Matisse Stories, The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, Elementals and her most recent book Little Black Book of Stories. A distinguished critic as well as a writer of fiction, A S Byatt was appointed CBE in 1990 and DBE in 1999.

BYATT, Dame Antonia (Susan), (Dame Antonia Duffy), DBE 1999 (CBE 1990); FRSL 1983; Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France), 2003 , writer; born 24 Aug. 1936;

Daughter of His Honour John Frederick Drabble, QC and late Kathleen Marie Bloor

Byatt has famously been engaged in a long-running feud with her novelist sister, Margaret Drabble, over the alleged appropriation of a family tea-set in one of her novels. The pair seldom see each other and each does not read the books of the other.

1st, 1959, Ian Charles Rayner Byatt (Sir I. C. R. Byatt) marriage dissolved. 1969; one daughter (one son deceased)
2nd, 1969, Peter John Duffy; two daughters.

Sheffield High School; The Mount School, York; Newnham College, Cambridge (BA Hons; Hon. Fellow 1999); Bryn Mawr College, Philadelphia, USA; Somerville College, Oxford.

Academic Honours:
Hon. Fellow, London Inst., 2000; Fellow UCL, 2004
Hon. DLitt: Bradford, 1987; DUniv York, 1991; Durham, 1991; Nottingham, 1992; Liverpool, 1993; Portsmouth, 1994; London, 1995; Sheffield, 2000; Kent 2004; Hon. LittD Cambridge, 1999

The PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Of Fiction prize, 1986 for STILL LIFE
The Booker Prize, 1990, for POSSESSION
Irish Times/Aer Lingus International Fiction Prize, 1990 for POSSESSION
The Eurasian section of Best Book in Commonwealth Prize, 1991 for POSSESSION
Premio Malaparte, Capri, 1995;
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature, California, 1998 for THE DJINN IN THE NIGHTINGALE''S EYE
Shakespeare Prize, Toepfer Foundation, Hamburg, 2002;

The Shadow of the Sun, 1964;
Degrees of Freedom, 1965 (reprinted as Degrees of Freedom: the early novels of Iris Murdoch, 1994);
The Game, 1967;
Wordsworth and Coleridge in their Time, 1970 (reprinted as Unruly Times: Wordsworth and Coleridge in their Time, 1989);
Iris Murdoch 1976
The Virgin in the Garden, 1978;
GEORGE ELIOT Selected Essays, Poems and Other Writings , 1979 (editor);
Still Life, 1985
Sugar and Other Stories, 1987;
George Eliot: selected essays, 1989 (editor)
Possession: a romance, 1990
Robert Browning''s Dramatic Monologues, 1990 (editor);
Passions of the Mind, (essays), 1991;
Angels and Insects (novellas),1992
The Matisse Stories (short stories),1993;
The Djinn in the Nightingale''s Eye: five fairy stories, 1994
Imagining Characters, 1995 (joint editor);
New Writing 4, 1995 (joint editor);
Babel Tower, 1996;
New Writing 6, 1997 (joint editor);
The Oxford Book of English Short Stories, 1998 (editor);
Elementals: Stories of fire and ice (short stories), 1998;
The Biographer''s Tale, 2000;
On Histories and Stories (essays), 2000;
Portraits in Fiction, 2001;
The Bird Hand Book, 2001 (Photographs by Victor Schrager Text By AS Byatt);
A Whistling Woman, 2002

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 358 reviews
Profile Image for Hannah Greendale.
696 reviews3,261 followers
January 4, 2019
Four short stories precede The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye, and they are fairy tale works of wonder with glittering language and bewitching imagery. "Dragons' Breath," in particular, reads as if it were penned by Tolkien.

The titular story comprises the second half of the book, a novella that implements such a significant shift in tone and craft as to make the collection feel incongruous. The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye is stuffy and dry by comparison. At one point, it reads like a contender for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

Overall, a mixed bag of glimmering highs and tedious lows (five stars to the short stories; three stars to the The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye).
The tongues of flame were nothing like the brave red banners of painted dragons in churches, and nothing like the flaming swords of archangels. They were molten and lolling, covered with a leathery transparent skin thick with crimson warts and taste-buds glowing like coals, the size of cabbages, slavering with some sulphurous glue and stinking of despair and endless decay that would never be clean again in the whole life of the world.
Profile Image for Zanna.
676 reviews940 followers
January 10, 2019
Reading this reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend recently about the films of Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch, how I love their artistic sensibilities but yearn in vain for, as my friend said, an intersectional lens. I love these stories but I can't put away my ideological discomfort about them. I get the impression they are not meant to be read ideologically, but we already know what the absence of an ideology amounts to... Anyway they are lovely, very graceful and clever, but a little too obedient, too restful, compared to, say, Angela Carter.

The first story introduces the overall theme, which to my mind is the impact of storytelling on storytelling (I believe that we apprehend through stories and exist as stories, so this topic is entirely congenial to me). This theme runs in the recurrence of acts of intervention when a character becomes conscious of the narrative conventions of their situation and use that awareness somehow. The hero is the proverbial 'little tailor' and he rescues an institutionally desirable white, blond sleeping beauty from the depredations of a 'black artist' (these words unfortunately do not denote a person of African descent engaged in creative production but a stereotypically creepy magician who can't handle rejection ) The tailor's own 'virtue' is treated realistically, against the wide-eyed innocence of the fairytale voice, and perhaps the messy ending is a deliberate resistance to happily ever after, or abdication of authorial power, but it was halfhearted if so!

The second story caused me to reflect that my passion for folklore does not readily extend to fabricated folklore.

The story of the eldest princess was more to my liking as it poked critically at some especially unpleasant narrative conventions, replacing the evil witch with a wise woman skilled in healing and able to set her female visitor free, and gave a normally glossed-over character the right of reply to the stories that have forgotten to mention her more than in passing. This is a rehabilitation of sorts. As in the first story of the tailor, I enjoyed the intelligent presence of the animals in this story and how they collaborated with the human protagonist very much. Still, why do fairytale morals positively require kindness to animals yet condone meat eating? Often fairytale is a location for the mythologies of meat, such as that it is given gladly by animals, but Byatt simply places compassionate behaviour to animals alongside the eating of dead flesh, casually erasing the animal on the plate.

The fourth tale seems to have some relationship to Byatt's story 'The Thing in the Forest' which, in my reading, imagines war, or the second world war, or the civilian experience of that war, as a monster.

The title piece, which takes up the great majority of the book, is a virtuoso piece of writing inspired by the 1001 Nights. Our protagonist is middle aged 'narratologist' Gillian, who has recently become single as her husband has run off with a younger woman, a plot detail that Byatt ostentatiously marks as tedious and commonplace. In fact the tedium of patriarchal oppression is the villain of this tale; one of its internal stories is that of Chaucer's Patient Griselda. I was very cross though that Byatt prominently chastises Muslim women who wear hijab, identifying them (in the form of three women in the front row at a lecture Gillian gives in Turkey) with this patriarchal tedium by making them silent, impassive, explicitly obedient to the men in their lives; she both speaks for and silences them. Ahdaf Soueif wrote a similar scene in In the Eye of the Sun which in the context of a novel from the viewpoint of a Muslim woman functioned as an effective critique of Egyptian patriarchy, but here in a story about classical Arabic literature from a white woman's perspective I feel it is othering and essentialising, reinscribing the colonialist/Orientalist tropes of the Lost Islamic Golden Age and the oppressed hijabi that speak over writers like Soueif.

One delightful thing about this story is the quality of the description which is, as always, sensuous and sumptuous, but also witty, when Byatt describes features of contemporaneity with the arch expansive tone of once upon a time, a technique I usually enjoy in magical realism because it reminds us that what we take for granted daily is wondrous and would have seemed fantastical to our ancestors: in England we dream of peaches in the dead of winter and 'find them' spread on our breakfast tables. I thought it clever and apt that the flying djinn found the air crowded with 'emanations' meaning signals at non-visible electromagnetic frequencies. Modernity has made some aspects of the magical real, and Byatt arranges them like a composer into poetry.

Gillian's Turkish colleague Orhan gives a lecture on a story from the 1001 Nights that illuminates the approach to storytelling in the classical Islamic-World tradition. My impression of this strand was that djinn tend interact with the human world as aesthetes, appreciative observers of a drama, rather playfully manipulating things like the gods of the pagan traditions of Greece and Rome, except that humans are occasionally placed in positions of power in relation to them. This threads into the theme of wish fulfilment which Gillian pursues as an object of study having gained a few of her wishes - meeting the theme of 'stories of women's lives' and the question of 'what women most desire' is it beauty, love or to give shape to the lives of others? Or is it the freedom to dream?

I think the reason this story is so bewitching is that it combines the unsettling mythological quality of classical storytelling and its sonorous, poetic voice with the critical subjectivity of the novel and its concomitant interiority. Fairytales do not tell us what people feel except in the broadest strokes possible (fear, excitement, happiness, despair) but here the resolution of emotion is 20:20, we feel, for instance, Gillian's frustration at her inability to communicate bourgeois distaste to someone who has never sat in a lower-middle class English drawing room. Byatt synthesises these disparate voices really effectively, mining all of their discords for delight (the brief teleportation of Boris Becker is particularly delicious) and stirring ancient pleasures into a modern symphony.
Profile Image for Майя Ставитская.
1,257 reviews123 followers
April 28, 2022
Speaking of Antonia Bayette, we mean, of course, intelligence, erudition, stylistic sophistication. The ornate redundancy of descriptions combined with a clear and precise formulation of thought. That's right, but first of all, the cavalier Lady Bayette is a feminist, and each of her books is a contribution to the struggle for a properly and fairly organized world where women's rights are inviolable and sacred

"The genie in the glass bottle "nightingale's eye" is no exception. The story of folklore specialist Gillian Perholt (slightly over fifty, the children have grown up and live their own lives, her husband recently left her for a young woman). This is not a story of loss and despair, but quite the contrary, a joyful acceptance of freedom from the need to adapt and adapt to a person who has long become a stranger. A necessity not sweetened by the bonuses of mutual sexual attraction, not softened by trust, friendship and tenderness.

Well, Gillian thinks, I've got my job. And she is right, when you are a recognized expert in any field, privacy gives you the opportunity to improve, and the support of colleagues provides warmth. Not the strength and intensity that love gives in its best phase, but, let's be honest, the best time of love does not last very long. In general, our folklorist goes to a symposium in Turkey, where she makes a successful report on the humble patience that the world prescribed for a woman, taking away her youth, beauty, health, self-respect and respect of others. About how this concept was reflected in folklore, using the example of "The Tale of the Patient Griselda"

And then, on occasion, in a shop at the bazaar, she buys a beautiful bottle that can be used as a paperweight (it should be noted that glass paperweights are the secret passion of the heroine, although why is it secret? She makes no secret of her love for beautiful glass). And you wouldn't be surprised to find out that there was a genie in that bottle, would you? Who, according to the custom of all djinn, will offer his liberator the fulfillment of three wishes.

A charming tale about reasonableness and moderation (in every possible sense) and that feminism does not aim to enslave a man. In general, feminism does not aim to enslave anyone.

Сказание о разумной фольклористке
Получив послание, она постояла немного, пытаясь вообразить себя горюющей по поводу мужниного предательства, утраченной любви, может быть, еще потери старого друга и уважения в свете, как это бывает, когда стареющая женщина отвергнута ради молодой. Но Джиллиан чувствовала себя узником, разрывающим оковы и, моргая, выбирающимся из темницы на свет божий.
Говоря Антония Байетт, мы подразумеваем, конечно, интеллект, эрудицию, стилистическую изысканность. Витиеватую избыточность описаний в соединении с четкой и точной формулировкой мысли. Все так, но в первую очередь, кавалерственная дама Байетт феминистка, и всякая ее книга - взнос в борьбу за правильно и справедливо устроенный мир, где права женщины неприкосновенны и священны

"Джинн в бутылке из стекла "соловьиный глаз" не исключение. История специалиста по фольклору Джиллиан Перхольт (слегка за пятьдесят, дети выросли и живут своей жизнью, муж совсем недавно оставил ее ради молодой женщины). Это не история утраты и отчаяния, а совсем даже напротив, радостного приятия свободы от необходимости приноравливаться и приспосабливаться к человеку, давно ставшему чужим. Необходимости не подслащенной бонусами взаимного сексуального притяжения, не умягченной доверием, дружбой и нежностью.

"Что ж, - думает Джиллиан, - У меня есть моя работа". И она права, когда ты признанный специалист в какой-либо области, уединение дает возможность совершенствоваться, а поддержка коллег обеспечивает душевным теплом. Не той силы и интенсивности, какую дает любовь в лучшей ее фазе, но, будем честны, лучшая пора любви длится ведь очень недолго. В общем, наша фольклористка едет на симпозиум в Турцию, где делает успешный доклад о смиренном терпении, которое мир предписывал женщине, забирая у нее молодость, красоту, здоровье, самоуважение и уважение окружающих. О том, как эта концепция отразилась в фольклоре, на примере "Сказки о терпеливой Гризельде"

А после, по случаю, в лавочке на базаре, покупает красивую бутылку, котор��ю можно использовать как пресс-папье (надо заметить, стеклянные пресс-папье тайная страсть героини, хотя почему тайная? Секрета из своей любви к красивому стеклу она не делает). И, вы ведь не удивитесь, узнав, что в той бутылке был заключен джинн? Который, по обычаю всех джиннов, предложит своей освободительнице исполнение трех желаний.

Очаровательная сказка о разумности и умеренности (во всех возможных смыслах) и о том, что феминизм не ставит целью поработить мужчину. Вообще кого бы то ни было поработить не ставит целью феминизм.
Profile Image for Deea.
305 reviews85 followers
April 11, 2016
This volume has 5 stories: first 2 I didn't read anymore as they were inserted in Possession (and although I don't remember exactly how to grade them, I remember what they were about), a short story about the deeds of an elder sister from a family with 3 daughters, a short story about the breath of a dragon and a story occupying more than half of the volume ( The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye ).

The story from the title is amazingly good. It is only one story but it contains several other stories. Remember the Arabian Nights ? Not only does this story have its structure somehow, but it also borrowed its charm. Our hero gets to make wishes in a modern world and they are granted. Her wishes are not for prosperity or happy forever-afters, but for solving issues that she has to deal with in the modern world. Byatt confronts old and modern with great literary ability, magic and real, Western ideas with Eastern ideas. She talks about fate and choice, about predestination and freedom, about the existence of uncanninness in our daily lives whether we accept it or not.
The emotion we feel in fairy-tales when the characters are granted their wishes is a strange one. We feel the possible leap of freedom - I can have what I want - and the perverse certainty that this will change nothing; that Fate is fixed.

This last story is a modern fairy tale and in the meantime a thorough analysis of classic fairy tales. Byatt tries to make a sense of "happy-ever-afters" as modern man cannot stop at that anymore: that "happy-ever-after" is just a moment in time after which comes another:
In fairy tales, said Gilian, those wishes that are granted and are not malign, or twisted towards destruction, tend to lead to a condition of beautiful stasis, more like a work of art than the drama of Fate. It is as though the fortunate has stepped off the hard road into an unchanging landscape where it is always spring and no winds blow. Alladin's genie gives him a beautiful palace, and as long as this palace is subject to Fate, various magicians move it violently around the landscape, build it up and cause it to vanish. But at the end, it goes into stasis: into the pseudo-eternity of happy-ever-after. When we imagine happy-ever-after we imagine works of art: a family photograph on a sunny day, a Gainsborough lady and her children in an English meadow under a tree, an enchanted castle in a snowstorm of feather in a glass dome.

Turkey as seen through Byatt's eyes is a land of magic: her descriptions of Topkapi and the Grand Bazaar, as well as the stories told to accompany random objects seen within, and the stories from the Djinn earlier releases from bottles he was imprisoned in contribute to create a wonderful realm where all stories come alive. I wish I had read this story first and then see Istanbul...maybe I would have seen it with different eyes!

If this story alone had made the whole volume of stories, I would have given it 5 stars, but it doesn't. So, I will only praise it in words and say that together with Stone Woman (a story from another volume written by Byatt) are way better than Possession (and I gave this one 5 stars). Hats off to Dame Byatt!

Profile Image for Janelle.
1,131 reviews137 followers
June 9, 2022
This book moved up my library list after I saw the trailer for the film ‘Three Thousand Years of Longing’ based on the title story. (It stars Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba!)
The first four stories are fairy tales ; sleeping beauties, dragons, princesses, quests, etc, some dark elements with magical writing that pulled me in from the start.
The title story is novella length and it’s main character, Gillian is a narratologist (she studies stories), middle aged, grown up children, and alone after her husband has left her. She is in Turkey for a conference and it’s a while before the djinn enters the tale. Many references to Arabian Nights (of course) but lots of other references to more modern writing and classics. There’s lots of dialogue as the djinn and Gillian discuss wishes and mortality, life and love, myth and reality. Very enjoyable (I hope the film is good).
Profile Image for Christine.
6,550 reviews473 followers
April 24, 2009
I fell in love with the work of A. S. Byatt after reading her story "The Story of the Eldest Princess". I love fairy tales, but I also am the eldest child in my family and always felt a little slighted because in most fairy tales the older children fail. Even after I learned why that was, it still got tiresome. It was refreshing to read a story that approached fairy tales from the viewpoint of an eldest child who knows she is caught in the tale and what that means. It's a wonderful story for any eldest children to read, and, quite frankly, worth the price of the book.

The other stories are good. "The Glass Coffin" appears in Byatt's Possession, and the title story, while slow, is one of those stories that rewards dedicated readers. If you want to read Byatt, but prefer short stories to novels, this collection is worth reading.
Profile Image for Austra.
603 reviews72 followers
October 12, 2022
Grāmata, kuras titulstāsts kalpojis par iedvesmu filmai “Three Thousand Years of Longing” - tas šajā krājumā arī ir garākais un krāšņākais. Vēl mani ļoti aizķēra stāsts par trīs princesēm un to, ka iepriekšnolemtība dažreiz varbūt arī absolūti atbrīvojoša - ja rezultāts ir neizbēgams, tad ceļu uz to var izvēlēties jebkādu un atteikties no vajadzības visu darīt pareizi vai tā, kā tas no tevis tiek sagaidīts. Pārējās trīs pasakas bija dažādā mērā dīvainas, un īpaši negribas pieminēt :)

“Daži cilvēki laikam gūst ārkārtīgu prieku, lemjot citu cilvēku likteņus. Varbūt tā rodas ilūzija, ka viņi ir noteicēji arī pār savu likteni...”

“Pasakās tās vēlmes, kas nav ļaunas vai vērstas uz destrukciju, parasti noved pie skaista miera stāvokļa, kas atgādina drīzāk mākslas darbu nekā Likteņa drāmu. It kā laimīgais cilvēks no putekļaina ceļa būtu nonācis nemainīgi skaistā dabas klēpī, kur valda mūžīgs pavasaris un nepūš skarbi vēji.”

“Ir lietas, kas guļ zemē, cilvēka roku darinātas lietas, un ir cilvēka roku neveidotas būtnes, kas dzīvo savu, no mūsējās atšķirīgu dzīvi, kas dzīvo ilgāk par mums un mūsu dzīvē reizēm ienāk ar pasakām, ar sapņiem, ienāk brīžos, kad lidojam svabadi.”
Profile Image for Burak Uzun.
175 reviews65 followers
February 25, 2018
Kitap, kapakta da belirtildiği gibi beş hikâyeden oluşuyor. İlk dört hikâye kitabın ilk yarısını, sona kalan ve kitaba adını veren hikâye ise diğer yarısını oluşturuyor.

Yazar, Bülbülün Gözündeki Cin'de İstanbul'da geçen ve tarihte adımlar atan, Binbir Gece Masalları'nın da etkisiyle yazılmış nefis bir cin hikâyesi anlatıyor.

İçinde Ayasofya da var, Hürrem Sultan da; Oktay Rifat da var, Çamlıbel de. Dolu dolu bir hikâye.

Bu hikâyeyi yazarken Cevat Çapan kendisine yardımcı olmuş, bu yüzden sanırım, kitabı da kendisine ithaf etmiş Byatt.
Profile Image for Ieva.
1,000 reviews76 followers
November 7, 2018
Man vienmēr ir patikušas pasakas, un ir jauki, ja kāds uzņemas tās rakstīt arī tādiem kā es - pieaugušajiem. Tiesa piecām pasakām tikai pēdējā, titulpasaka, ir tāds īsts tieši pieaugušo gabals, pārējās ir arī klasiks darbības virspusējais slānis, kas varētu patikt arī saprātīgam jaunākam lasītājam, bet pasaka par Džinu gan pat virspusē ir nobriedušākam lasītājam. Patīkami lasīt.
Profile Image for Oria.
115 reviews38 followers
May 5, 2014
There are five short stories in this book. The first four are just that, short, but the last one which gives the name of this book is quite lengthy.

The Glass Coffin is about a tailor who goes out into the world to find his luck. He meets a little grey man who gives him shelter for the night in exchange for helping with house chores. The tailor cooks, feeds the animals who also live in the house, and in return for his good work and kindness, gets to choose one gift out of the three the little grey man is offering.

“You have chosen not with prudence but with daring”, says the little grey man, and the tailor sets off on his way. His choice will make him face a difficult challenge, but guided by optimism and courage, the tailor will have to let go of his fear in order to fully experience the life-changing adventure. He sees a beautiful glass coffin, has to confront an evil magician, and dispel a terrible curse. It’s a nice little story, beautiful and quite straightforward.

Gode’s Story is also about a man, this time a young sailor, who’s in love with the miller’s daughter. It’s a complicated love story, full of symbolism that would be difficult to explain without giving away too much. It reminded me of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, because it takes place near the sea and it involves a lot of waiting. I’ve enjoyed this as well but not as much as the first story.

The Story of the Eldest Princess is about three sisters, princesses “in a kingdom between the sea and the mountains”. One by one, they go on a quest to bring back the blue color of the sky which had changed to other shades. The eldest princess meets a scorpion, a toad and a cockroach on her way; she helps them and they return the favor. This has echoes of Little Red Riding Hood, but is also a story within a story and by the end of it I felt trapped, not knowing what to believe. The abrupt ending left me confused.

Dragon’s Breath is about a family with three children, Harry, Jack, and Eva, who grow up on tales about dragons. Life in their village is boring for the three siblings and they all dream of more exciting things, of adventures and castles and riches within their walls. And one day adventure comes but not in the way they thought it would, and it changes their lives and their perspective on things.

“Such wonder, such amazement, are the opposite, the exact opposite, of boredom, and many people only know them after fear and loss. Once known, I believe, they cannot be completely forgotten; they cast flashes and floods of paradisal light in odd places and at odd times.”

The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye is the last story and it takes up more than half the book. I loved the first passage – a brilliant description of modern times told in a fairy tale way, one of those paragraphs that echoes in the mind for a long time after the story has ended. Its beauty spills into the rest of the story but somewhere along the thread of this tale I became bored and wished for something more exciting to happen. In a way I was like the three siblings in the previous story, impatient, wanting adventure, excitement. And just like them, I got my wish, but I had to wait a while.

This is the story of a woman narratologist, middle aged, successful in her career, who travels a few times a year to conferences where she meets like-minded academics and they listen to each other discourse on the history of fairy tales and legends and such. This is by far the most academic story in this collection – references and analysis of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Shakespearean plays, Greek myths, the Thousand and One Nights and the origins of various fairy tales made the story quite interesting up to a point. There are plenty of details that help make the reader familiar with the heroine’s life, her feelings, her hopes. There are also a few stories woven into this tale, of Patient Griselda, of Gilgamesh, bits of history about Turkey, where the woman visits for one of her conferences, and where she buys, in a bazaar, a curiously shaped bottle which she will later discover, houses a djinn.
The bottle could be made from “nightingale’s eye”, a famous Turkish glass from the 19th century, she is told, and because she is a collector of glass paper weights, she buys it. That’s when the real adventure begins. Her first meeting with the djinn involves a funny little part about a tennis match, which was quite amusing to read, and also endless philosophical discussions.

Byatt’s prose is anything but simple and in this last story its construction is intricate, layered, there are vivid descriptions of colors and smells, of sensuality, and it pulls the reader right in from the first sentence. It is also the kind of prose that you have to work for to fully appreciate, but the reward is well worth it. The beginning was interesting, but I felt a little disappointed with the way things were progressing. The appearance of the djinn brought back the interesting element and it never slacked off until the end. This was my favorite story along with The Glass Coffin.

“Being inside a woman has certain things – a few things – in common with being inside a woman – a certain pain that at times is indistinguishable from pleasure. We cannot die, but at the moment of becoming infinitesimal inside the neck of a flask, or jar, or a bottle – we can shiver with the apprehension of extinction – as humans speak of dying when they reach the height of bliss, in love.”
1,180 reviews13 followers
May 7, 2020
I think I have a new author to add to my quiver of favorites. This is the second book by Byatt I have read, and both have been spectacular!
Byatt’s style is poetic, lyric and beautiful. The words process like an ancient tapestry telling an epic story. Byatt’s sentences are often long and contain many phrases, but rarely do they seem clumsy or hard to follow. Instead the phrases march out a beat that leads to a clear concise thought. There is an echo of haunting in the writing as well, a note of undercurrent that is terrifying, in the way that legends are terrifying.

Byatt’s writings step in and out of fantasy; they are fairy tales, everyday life interjected with the otherworldly. My appetite for fairy tales has been growing of late, and Byatt provides a feast.
The book has four shorter stories, then the much longer title story. The early stories build, each was progressively better for me.

“The Story of the Eldest Princess” lived both inside and outside the bounds of traditional fairy tales. It is a fairy tale with a self-aware participant. She knows she is in a fairy tale and tries to act accordingly. However, she is never sure if her second guessing is a correction to a wrong first choice, or self-doubt keeping her from a correct first choice. Having read Grimm’s fairy tales, it is a wonderful take on the frequent subject of three daughters/sons.

“Dragon’s Breath” contains much of the haunting I alluded to earlier. Is it a metaphor of what life is like for insects looking at humanity? Is it a cautionary tale of the destruction of society that technology brings? I have no idea, but I love it. Byatt has an outstanding observation that after surviving harrowing incidents, that the memories of those great moments in life “cast flashes and floods of paradisal light in odd places and at odd times.” It has been so true in my own life; distant memories of powerful moments flash in at very strange times. Byatt also makes a great commentary that the everyday boredom is winnowed out of stories, legends, fairy tales. Even in the midst of any epic tale, most of the time has to be spent doing the tedious, eating, sleeping, walking, relieving one’s self. Those moments never make the story.

I think it is safe to say that the title story is not like anything I have read. What would it be like if you came upon a genie (djinn) in a bottle in modern life? What would you wish for? Would you learn from the warnings of other fairy tale wishers?

Byatt’s story wanders and meanders around this topic. She has frequent precursors and foreshadowing, as well as nods back to events from a few pages ago. There is a heavy reward for paying attention, as these backtracks create a balance in the story that tips back and forth. Perhaps Byatt’s greatest strength is her beautiful wordplay. She uses many subtle puns and plays on words, and nowhere do they shine as bright as in these references to past and future parts of the story.

I couldn’t help but compare Byatt to Margaret Atwood even though their writing style is not similar. But, both deal with the supernatural in creative ways. They are only 3 years apart, Byatt being the elder, both refer back to a youth affected by World War Two. Both seem to frequently write about aging women and their body image, expressing feelings of betrayal on how their bodies have changed. I find it fascinating. I have not found male writers who write about their aging bodies in the same way.

I enjoyed the portrayals of sex in the book, it was used much in the way as it is in 1001 Arabian Nights. The expressions of sex are very eastern, free from the influence of Christianity and is damning of the flesh.

I also enjoyed the many, many references to other great works. Proust, Chaucer and, others are brought up, compared and contrasted. Byatt seems to skim the cream from these iconic writers. Each adds their drops of flavor to her tales. They help get across points the author is trying to make.

Despite deeply enjoying her previous work, Ragnarok, I approached this book skeptically. I did not think it would be a book I love, especially with such a wild name. But I fell hard for it. It is something I can strongly recommend to anyone who likes fairy tales and daydreams. Take the time to read it slowly, or even out loud. It is a book that is meant to be heard. It lands on my bookcase hall of fame.

Every bit as good as I remember. This is the kind of writing that you can fall into and let enfold you. Page after page, story after story, it is wonderful read. There are so many observations on humanity in these stories. And I love the play on traditional fairy tales offered.

Its so hard to pick a favorite. Other than the first story, the other four all have aspects I really enjoyed.
Profile Image for Aimee.
42 reviews44 followers
September 21, 2009
...Because sometimes, a completely modern fairytale, so-called, just won't do.

I still have sitting on my bedside table Possession, by Byatt. It is sitting there all forlorn, halfway-read with a growth which stagnated a couple of months back, when I found I just couldn't read another page at that moment. And still I haven't reached the next moment that will make me pick up the book and continue reading it.

Possession is one of those books that's like very dark, incredibly rich chocolate brownies. The first 5, and you're absolutely loving them. But then, suddenly, the chocolate becomes a little sickly to the tongue, and then as you continue to gorge yourself, you begin to taste the ingredients by themselves, like eggs and flour, that taste so magical when mixed together but now they're just breaking apart and asserting themselves and becoming plain and unmagical, simply from too many mouthfuls. Which is why I really enjoyed Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye. It was like one sweet, rich brownie with all the same fantastical ingredients, but somehow better in its own quiet solitude.

The book itself is made up of five fairy stories, the final one taking the title's name, and also taking up about two thirds of book in the process. Like Possession, it is Victorian and romantic, but unlike Possession, you can see where the story is leading, the existence of a story arc, the precise confinement of would-be tangents.
Each of the stories play on traditional Victorian fairy tales, reminiscent of Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson (NOT Disney, thank the gods) but with little twists and knots and sudden turns that make the familiar refreshingly strange. The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye, the final story, is the most mixed of modern and traditional, which I somehow felt weakened the story - a little too much milk in the tea- kinda thing. Consequently, it was my most unfavourite of the lot. But the reviews I've read online seem to think that opposite, that the fifth and final, perhaps most 'original' fairy story is the triumph, the masterpiece. I admit the story is surprisingly erotic. I found myself a little heated on the bus home from work when I first encountered the character of the Djinn, whom I imagined from the description to be bald, and naked, and with an incredibly 'masculine smell', with kohl-rimmed eyes and defined lips, like an ancient Egyptian Scribe, only about 10 times bigger than a human. As are his extravagant genitals (which somehow reminded me of an elephant's trunk? Perhaps because of all the 'folds' references). He regales his 'Aladdin', modern career woman Gillian, with his love tales of 1000 years past lived in Arab palace chambers and loving his masters (or mistresses, as they tend to be). The three wishes Gillian receives and ponders play second fiddle to these stories - they seem rather than the centre of the tale, to be woven deftly inbetween his tales and their evolving passionate and philosophical discussion. Gillian's choices for her three wishes might surprise you, and the end part of the story is perfectly tantalising.

I've chosen not to go into detail about the other 4 stories, mainly because they are the more traditional style and some of them are taken from Byatt's other works, such as Possession. But also I've kept my opinions, thoughts and explanations of the four remaining stories hidden as I'd like to keep the delightful surprise of them for the reader.

They are the type of stories that you can only truly enjoy if you have your very best eiderdown quilt thrown over the top of you on a very comfortable lounge, with the wind quite still outside and the fat rain lullabying you to almost-sleep. you pick up your wine glass, and your chocolate of choice, and become so immersed in the story that you let the wine from time to time dribble down your front. And even when you become aware of your gluttony you don't care, because the feeling is so simply... delightful.

4 stars for the Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye. I wish there were more stories like them.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,230 reviews1,003 followers
April 13, 2013
I read this for the Mythic Fiction book group here on Goodreads, but never got around to going and posting about it over there...

A collection of 5 stories - 4 very short, and one novella-length (the title story). The first 4 stories were excellent - but 4.5 stars for the first half of the book, and 2 stars for the second half (actually, it's a little more than half) averages out to 3.

The Glass Coffin -
A humble tailor granted magical gifts, a sleeping princess, an enchanted prince, an evil magician and a happy ending. The familiar elements meshed together by Byatt's exquisite writing create a fresh story which could have come straight from a 19th-century book of fairy tales.

Gode's Story -
A handsome young sailor's careless ways come back to haunt him - literally - in this tragedy.

The Story of the Eldest Princess -
In a kingdom with three Princesses, an unexplained phenomena occurs - the sky turns green. The eldest princess heads out on a quest to discover the reason for this change, and to turn the sky back to blue. On the road, she encounters some elements that you might expect from a quest story - and some things that you might not.

Dragon's Breath -
A village is plagued by dragons (?) that sap the will and rob life of meaning. More allegorical-feeling than the others, but a thoughtful and lovely tale.

The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye -
This is the one, sadly, that I really didn't like at all. This clearly semi-autobiographical story of a modern "narratologist" who meets a ridiculously handsome djinn-in-a-bottle, and, of course, grants her three wishes, just felt self-indulgent, annoyingly metafictional, and rather dull.

Overall, the book left me with the same feelings I've had about most of Byatt's work - except here my positive and negative feelings were sharply divided. Usually the brilliantly lovely parts and the dull parts of her books are more intertwined.

I did love the selection of nineteenth-century illustrations as headers for each story.

Profile Image for belisa.
982 reviews28 followers
August 6, 2018
sonunda en uzunu olan son öyküyü yani "Bülbülün Gözündeki Cin" i de okudum... bu hikayeyi hazır olana kadar okumadım, ilginç girift bir öyküydü, bol bol peri masalı içeren, anlatıcının ruhunu da okuruna sunan nefis bir öykü, ilk öyküleri artık çokça hatırlamıyorum sanırım kitabın puanını da bu son öyküye uygun olarak verdim... bu kadından hoşlanıyorum sanırım...
Profile Image for Adam.
996 reviews196 followers
April 24, 2017
I always imagined this sort of thing must exist. A fairly large subset of bibliophiles love fairy tales for their own sake, and plenty of us are self-conscious of narrative tropes and seek stories that seem mature and emotionally complex. Perhaps there are a lot of stories like these - fairy tale retellings are kind of a thing these days, from Grendel to The Bloody Chamber to Wicked, not to mention any of the TV schlock. In the hands of lesser writers, the concept is too wry and knowing and on-the-nose.

Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye (the story) reads like a fusion of Jorge Luis Borges and Barry Lopez told through the lens of a middle-aged woman. It shares Borges' obsession with the trappings and inner logic of the fairy tale and medieval Arabic culture, but uses them to explore Gillian's life and personality, rather than metaphysics and ontology. Where Lopez finds the magic to move his characters in the natural world, Byatt's magic is in narrative, its ineluctable power to drive our lives and the marginal agency we obtain in acknowledging it. Byatt, then, is finally the post-modern fairy tale teller I'd been looking for.

The execution is what really makes these stories stand out. They embrace much of the style of fairy tales, their enchanted objects and looming hand of fate, their castles and princesses and toads and witches, but eschew their incessant grandiosity and penchant for pat endings. Dragons' Breath is a great example, the kind of anticlimax, purposeless event that could never happen in classical Western fairy tales (though it would feel right at home with these Japanese Tales I've been reading). Her prose is wonderful, imbuing the prosaic with magic and efficiently painting the experiences of her characters (how does anyone describe prose without sounding silly? Is that a thing?). Gillian (the other four stories don't really even have proper modern protagonists) is emotionally nuanced and substantial, a model for aspiring fantasy writers to shoot for.

Profile Image for Samee.
41 reviews
July 15, 2010
I just encountered Byatt for the first time, and despite her jaundiced view of the Harry Potter books, I have to say she's really a great read. This book contains four retellings or reimaginings of traditional fairy tales and a more realistic novella about a middle-aged professor who encounters the titular djinn on a trip to Turkey. The literary snob in me really appreciates the fact that she's a master wordsmith who also treats fairy tales seriously, but what really won me over was "The Story of the Eldest Princess." Anyone who's ever ground their teeth at the seemingly inescapable fate of birth order in fairy tales will appreciate this one.
Profile Image for Destiny Dawn Long.
496 reviews31 followers
April 25, 2009
I liked the self-awareness of the stories in this volume--how the characters were familiar with fairy tales, and that informed their actions and decisions in some way. In particular, I enjoyed "The Glass Coffin," "The Story of the Eldest Princess," and the title story for this reason. The emphasis on the act of storytelling gave me a lot to ponder. Also, I love that the title story uses the frame narrative structure--stories being told within the story--but without the neccesity of The Arabian Nights, from which it draws so much inspiration.
Profile Image for Bloodorange.
660 reviews182 followers
December 24, 2014
For some reason, Polish translation of this collection only contains three stories out of five - I assume the two missing ones, "The Glass Coffin" and "Gode's Story", are extracts from Possession. I found "Tale of the Eldest Princess" very amusing, very self-aware and metatextual, liked the title story, and found "Dragon's Breath" downright depressing. On the whole, I'd say the collection is varied, accidental and uneven, but worth reading if you like Byatt (or Carter, or Gaiman...) - it's a really smart little volume and you're likely to find at least one story you will like.
Profile Image for Queenie.
52 reviews22 followers
April 26, 2018
There's no doubt about Byatt's literary erudition and brilliance; her stories were deftly and eloquently penned without venturing into kid's section, as many fantasy stories end up. I guess I would appreciate this compilation of short stories better had I not just finished her other book, Possession. I'll definitely come back to this collection of fantasy stories one day in a less exhausted frame of mind.
Profile Image for Cerys.
354 reviews138 followers
May 26, 2019
I didnt enjoy this entire book, but the titular story - The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye - is INCREDIBLE and definitely made the book as a whole worth reading.
Profile Image for MargaretDH.
991 reviews17 followers
May 16, 2020
This was lovely - Byatt puts together a collection of fairy tale retellings, and they're all lovely, as you would expect. The final fairy tale is almost novella length, and it's about narratologist who opens a bottle with a djinn inside.

The prose is gorgeous, and the stories are densely layered with meaning and imagery. I read this during a week where I didn't have a ton of mental energy, and even just reading these on a surface level without stopping to dig in was very enjoyable.

If you like Byatt or fairy tale retellings, definitely pick this up.
Profile Image for Jerry.
Author 8 books21 followers
August 1, 2017
A.S. Byatt loves to nest stories inside stories. Often, the inner stories are as compelling as the overall story. She’s especially good at weaving fantasy stories and fairy tales into her fictional narrative.

This collects “The Glass Coffin” and “Gode’s Story” from Possession. “Dragons’ Breath” was originally written to be read aloud during a “project for Sarajevo.” “The Eldest Princess” was originally written for the short story collection Caught In A Story.

“The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye” is by far the largest piece, and was written for this collection.

The book itself is a joy to hold. It is a sweet little near-paperback-sized hardcover. A little black book of fantasy. Each story is prefaced by a tiny woodcut-like illustration.

The first four stories are very much old-school fairy tales with a little bit of modern perspective. The final story is very much a modern fairy tale. About a mortal and a djinn, it contrasts interestingly with Tim Powers’s Declare, which also features djinn interacting with mortals. Mainly because I recently read the latter, but there are similarities, and where they diverge is also interesting. The djinn in Byatt’s telling is far more personable than the frightening and/or incomprehensible djinn in Powers’s book.

All of the stories are very simple and fast reads that will stay with you well after you put the book down.
Profile Image for Airaology.
599 reviews31 followers
February 11, 2016
Favourite quote

She had a phrase for the subtle pleasures of solitary air travel. She spoke it to herself like a charm as the great silver craft detached itself from its umbilical tube at Heathrow, waddled like an albatross across the tarmac and went up, up through grey curtains of English rain.

This collection of short stories is riddled with poetic verses and, sometimes not so straightforward explanations but rereading it again, you catch all these breadcumbs and subtle cues.
Profile Image for Derek.
65 reviews25 followers
Want to read
July 12, 2016
I recommend this book on the strength of two short stories, "The Glass Coffin" and "The Story of the Eldest Princess." Both could be called "Fractured Fairytales," as they are largely in the form of traditional fairy tales, but the author's sensibility twists them into a kind of commentary on fairy tales. What makes them great, however, is the beauty of her language. It's wonderful and voluptuous. I like to read it out loud for fun.
Profile Image for Mark Lisac.
Author 6 books25 followers
December 10, 2015
Gorgeous writing drifting back and forth across the border of reality and dreamlands. The stories in this collection — the title story is novella length — can be read as simple pleasures or as reflections on the world around us. While there seems to be intent in most of this work, the stories can also function as glistening objets d'art, much like the artistically formed glass globes in the title story; the effect is enhanced by the unusual attention to detail in printing and design.
Profile Image for Leah.
803 reviews41 followers
March 11, 2013
Rating: 3.5 of 5

Of the five stories in The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye I enjoyed "The Story of the Eldest Princess" and "The Glass Coffin" the most. However, the other three were just okay.
Profile Image for Kailey (Luminous Libro).
2,856 reviews434 followers
September 7, 2014
I liked the first four fairy stories that are told in the old fairy tale style, but I did not like the last story, which is set in the modern day. It got boring, so I skipped the last one. I'm not particularly impressed with this author. It's like she tries too hard to sound scholarly and impressive, instead of just telling a good story. Her writing is also crass and grotesque in places. meh.
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