This is the only book to cause me to miss my stop on the train. I was so engrossed that I blew right past my station and had to call my mother to come pick me up.
Possession will always be my favorite of Byatt's - partly because it was the novel to introduce me to the author, partly because it's a masterpiece - but this is one that really spoke to me the second time around. I somehow missed the unifying dissertation on language last time, only vaguely connecting spoken thought (or the lack of thereof, silence, etc.) to the title, a legend on the birth of language.
I've read some reviews calling Babel Tower a mess in twelve parts, and it's true that there are multiple parallel plot lines. However, the plots are balanced and overlapping, even if it is a little difficult to say exactly what the novel is about in a sentence.
It's about Frederica, an Englishwoman attempting to divorce her husband and retain custody of her son. It's also about education, as it traces civil servants on a committee to analyze primary-level schools and determine which was the "right" way to teach. In examining teaching, the book begins to discuss grammar, words, and theories suggesting that a lack of formal language instruction diminishes a person's capacity to think. It's also about a clergyman who works for the Listeners, a suicide hotline, and his relationship with his estranged children. It's about a book, written ostensibly by one of the characters, which may or may not be obscene, and is used as a frame narrative to offer alternative context to the rest of the story. Its trial mirrors the Lady Chatterly affair even as it is set alongside Frederica's divorce and custody hearings.
The book is brilliant. It's the third in a quartet. I liked the first two, but to this one, I have sworn undying love.