Angels and InsectsI’ve loved some of A.S. Byatt‘s other works—Possession and The Children’s Book (both novels) and The Matisse Stories (a collection of short stories)—and wanted to read more. Angels and Insects is a collection of two novellas: “Morpho Eugenia” and “The Conjugial Angel.”

“Morpho Eugenia” begins on a promising note, with a ball at the Alabaster family’s upper-class Victorian home: “The shimmering girls whirled past in the candlelight, shell-pink and sky-blue, silver and citron, gauze and tulle.” A lovely image, artfully described.

But visitor William Adamson feels like a fish out of water: he’s just survived a shipwreck following an extended insect-collecting expedition in the Amazon. As he admires the “pale-gold and ivory creatures” on the dance floor, he can’t help remembering “olive-skinned and velvet-brown ladies of doubtful virtue and no virtue.” As Adamson grows more entangled with the Alabasters, he struggles to maintain his identity as a scientist by observing ant colonies with the family’s children.

Unfortunately, Byatt bogs down her own narrative by including her characters’ narratives: Adamson’s observations of ant behavior, a fable by one of the family’s many female hangers-on, and the Rev. Alabaster’s ponderous attempts to square emerging principles of evolution with Christian faith.

Getting through these passages was a challenge; they were long and felt like padding to turn a short story into a novella. They presented themes and imagery relevant to the story—but at what cost to the reader’s patience!

While I liked the overall story, I was disappointed in this reading experience. So much so that I haven’t had the heart to delve into the second novella—yet.