Andrea Barrett

Top Ten contributor Andrea Barrett is receiving strong reviews for her ninth book, an “elegant new story collection” titled Archangel.

John Freeman says the five interlaced stories feel “like a dispatch from the moving front of scientific discovery, [spanning] the wake of Darwin’s theory to the aftermath of Einstein’s discovery of relativity.”

Janet Maslin says the stories are “immersed in a scientific world of the past and set at a juncture where science and history collide. At that time, Einstein’s theory of relativity was supplanting earlier ways of envisioning the universe, yet some of Ms. Barrett’s characters are frightened by the lack of humanism in such progress. They cannot easily part ways with the past. …

“The best of the five stories in “Archangel” recall the power and mystery of Ms. Barrett’s Ship Fever another collection of exceptional delicacy and grace [and winner of the 1996 National Book Award for Fiction]. Together, these five stories form a cycle, one that begins in 1908 with “The Investigators,” centering on the viewpoint of a 12-year-old boy, Constantine Boyd, who will reappear as Private Boyd in Northern Russia in the title story, which ends the book. Only 11 years separate “The Investigators” from “Archangel,” which is set in the Russian city of Arkhangelsk, but this book’s universe is very full. It also travels back to 1873 for “The Island,” set off New England and featuring the same gutsy Miss Atkins who is Constantine’s gutsy teacher and also a scientist; she is one of the adventurous characters to whom “The Investigators” refers. But in “The Island,” she is shy Henrietta Atkins, hoping to learn about Darwin’s theories by making a hands-on study of marine biology. She falls into the hands of an obstructionist professor who has his own, Darwin-proof theories about how species advance themselves without benefit of evolution. …

“Her stories work as both fiction and as philosophy of science. And she need do no grandstanding to advance her belief in unstoppable progress. But this book does offer a powerfully human sense of the struggle it takes for new ideas to dislodge old ones.”

 Andrea Barrett’s Top Ten List

1. Paradise Lost by John Milton (1667).
2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869).
3. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871–72).
4. Metamorphoses by Ovid (8 c.e.).
5. Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1853).
6. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818).
7. The Aeneid by Virgil (19 b.c.e.).
8. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851).
9. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847).
10. The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth (1932).