The Biographer's Tale

The Biographer's Tale

Book - 2001
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Baker & Taylor
Authoring the biography of a famous but elusive biographer, disenchanted postgraduate student Phineas G. Nanson performs frustrating research from Africa to the Arctic while confronting a plethora of obstacles and his own personal demons. Tour.

Blackwell North Amer
The Biographer's Tale tells the story of Phineas G. Nanson, a disenchanted young graduate student who decides to escape the world of postmodern literary theory and immerse himself in the messiness of "real life" by writing a biography of a great biographer. For what could be more real than biography, the "art of things, of arranged facts"? But Phineas quickly discovers that facts can be unreliable, and a "whole life" hard to find. No matter how hard he tries, he unearths only fragments - disconnected manuscripts, bones and husks, strands of poetry, boxes of marbles, undated photographs. How does one put together the idea of a person?
Phineas tracks his subjects' journeys to the deserts of Africa and the maelstroms of the Arctic in a series of adventures that are by turns intellectual and comic, scientific and erotic. He meets others who are building wholes from bits and pieces: a beautiful radiographer, ecologists, anthropologists, even travel agents offering the trip of your dreams. But they seem only to make his task more difficult. And as he tries to sort through the cabinet of curiosities that is the past, he must also decide his own future, and face the most difficult puzzle of all: which woman will guide him out of his dizzying labyrinth and back into his own life?

& Taylor

Phineas G. Nanson sets out to write a biography of a great biographer, only to discover that the fragmentary facts and bits of information are difficult to put together, a discovery that becomes a metaphor for his own complex life.

Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2001
Edition: First American edition
ISBN: 9780375411144
Branch Call Number: FICTION BYATT...A


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Jan 15, 2012

Not my favourite of Byatt’s novels & struggled a few times to keep reading but, as always, her tales are complex and well considered so I certainly found parts of it extremely interesting, thought-provoking (such as the role of the biographer). Can’t help but think the title has some connection with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tale though not really sure how etc.


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