A Stone Woman – Story Review

The third story in A.S. Byatt’s collection Little Black Book of Stories is “Stone Woman.” It follows a  woman named Ines, who is grieving over the death of her mother. She doesn’t have a significant other, she works mainly from home, and the only thing in her life is this grief. Then she begins to slowly turn to stone. The process is such that, eventually, she decides to wander around and try to find a suitable place for her to eventually solidify into what she seems to expect to be some sort of living statue. So only naturally she finds herself wandering around a cemetery, because where else do big statues of people gather, and she’s finding it entirely unsatisfactory when she comes across an Icelander named Thorstein who has set up shop for the winter, stone carving and repairing the more dilapidated sculptures in the cemetery. He informs that Iceland is very much okay with women who turn to stone and agrees to take her there if she allows him to study her gradual transformation and to “track it” (presumably through work of his own). They go, she changes, and skips off to the mountains to dance, quite literally, with other bizarre creatures that exist just beyond the perceptive abilities of us normal humans but which are easily noticed by rock women.

From what I recall neither Ines nor Thorstein are given ages but I got the impression that Thorstein was maybe in his forties while Ines in her fifties. Neither seem overly sociable, or at least have many or any notable friends. Given how old Ines seems and how attached to her mother she appears to have been, she almost seems a spinster living alone her whole life, never having a romantic entanglement and for whom their parents are the only important pillars in their social existence. I’m not sure what it says that the only way Ines could transform from this existence to some sort of new existence was to turn to stone with molten lava for blood. She doesn’t seem to blossom into the world as much as bypass and forge into a new world entirely.

Is this what it is like for a woman, grown past adult, left truly alone for the first time and having to find a way to subsist and to find their niche in existence? Perhaps. The fact that her blood turns, literally, lava hot can be seen as a positive thing – the heat of life has visited her, she is living again, but she still has that harsh exterior (and perhaps interior, as well) to separate her from the world around her in literal and figurative ways.

then there is the fact that the only person, the only man, to befriend her is a foreigner who is as outside to her own society as he is. And that this foreigner transports her and her new strangeness to a new land which is the only place she has any hope of fitting in.

It might also be worth noting that, so far, the only two primary male characters have both been somewhat detached from the world around them, interpreting it in ways that are at once intriguing but also foreign and even somewhat scary.

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