AS Byatt, award-winning author of Possession, dies aged 87

Dame Antonia was the author of Possession and The Children’s Book.

AS Byatt, award-winning author of Possession, dies aged 87 PA Media

Dame Antonia Byatt has died at the age of 87, her publisher has said.

The author, known as AS Byatt, won the 1990 Booker Prize for romance novel Possession and died on Thursday “peacefully at home surrounded by close family”.

Clara Farmer, her publisher at Chatto & Windus, an imprint of Penguin Random House, said: “Antonia’s books are the most wonderful jewel boxes of stories and ideas.

“Her compulsion to write (A4 blue notebook always to hand) and her ability to create intricate skeins of narrative was remarkable. It was always a treat to see her, to hear updates about her evolving literary characters and indulge in delicious titbits of literary gossip.

“Like all Chatto’s publishers before me, I was devoted to her and her writing.

“2024 would have been her 60th (Diamond) anniversary as a Chatto author. We mourn her loss but it’s a comfort to know that her penetrating works will dazzle, shine and refract in the minds of readers for generations to come.”

Possession, a time-jumping tale, tells the story of the love between two Victorian poets that is uncovered by scholars in the modern age.

The book was adapted for a 2002 romance mystery movie of the same name starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Toby Stephens and Tom Hollander.

In 2009 Dame Antonia had success with The Children’s Book which also saw her shortlisted for the Booker Prize and become a winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

Zoe Waldie, her literary agent at agency RCW, said she “held readers spellbound” and called her writing “multi-layered, endlessly varied and deeply intellectual, threaded through with myths and metaphysics”.

She added: “Her formidable erudition and passion for language were combined with a love of scholarship and an astonishing memory, forged learning poetry and rules for spelling and grammar by heart as a child.”

Ms Waldie also said: “She was interested in so many things; phone calls with her about work were never routine, nor brief, and would reliably and joyfully digress to the topic of a painter or new exhibition, or to a European writer she’d just discovered, or to how the brain works, or to the tennis on television, or travel …

“She was a committed Europhile and relished getting to know her many foreign publishers and translators, on the continent and beyond.

“She was avidly interested in new writing and delighted in championing upcoming authors. We are heartbroken to have lost her, and our thoughts are with her family.”

Dame Antonia, originally from Sheffield and born on August 24 1936, was taught at a Quaker school and later mentored by novelist Iris Murdoch.

Her first novel The Shadow Of The Sun was published in 1964 and she went onto write 23 books along with works of criticism, according to her publisher.

Other highlights include The Frederica Quartet series which included The Virgin In The Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman, and was adapted by BBC Radio 4.

Her most recent publication, Medusa’s Ankles: Selected Stories, came out in 2021.

Jenny Uglow, her long-term editor at Chatto & Windus, said “she was defiantly original” and would read “widely to clarify the background of intellectual movements and artistic ideas” to use in her books.

Aside from being made a CBE in 1990 and a DBE in 1999 for services to literature, Dame Antonia had an beetle named after her in 2014 following a coleopterist reading her novella Morpho Eugenia from Angels And Insects.

The story was adapted into a 1990s romance film called Angels And Insects, about a naturalist, with Sir Mark Rylance, Patsy Kensit, and Dame Kristin Scott Thomas among the cast.

Dame Antonia received the Erasmus Prize in 2016, which is given to “a person or institution that has made an exceptional contribution to the humanities, the social sciences or the arts, in Europe and beyond”, and comes with a cash prize of 150,000 euros (£131,346).

Last year, her 1995 short story The Djinn In The Nightingale’s Eye inspired a fantasy drama film directed and co-written by Mad Max creator George Miller.

Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton starred opposite each other in 2022’s Three Thousand Years Of Longing which features a conversation between a genie and an academic in a hotel room in Istanbul.

Dame Antonia lived in Putney with her husband, Peter Duffy.

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