BOOKS: THE DIVISION OF TONGUES

AFTER THE VICTORIAN ENCHANTMENTS AND RUNAWAY SUCCESS OF POSSESSION, A.S. BYATT TURNS TO MODERN, MESSIER OBSESSIONS

Possession is by far A.S. Byatt's best-known novel. A miraculous blend of contemporary and Victorian morality and romance, it won the 1990 Booker Prize in Britain just as it was being published in the U.S. to glowing reviews and warm sales. Babel Tower (Random House; 625 pages; $25.95) is Byatt's first novel since then, and will surely attract the attention of all those enchanted by Possession. It is also likely to provoke some head scratching, since the new novel continues a story begun in two of Byatt's earlier, pre-Possession books.

Not that it's necessary to have read The Virgin in the...

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