"Medusa's Ankles" introduces us to an aging woman who is drawn into a hair salon by the "rosy nude," a Matisse painting. Her semi-friendship with the hairdresser deteriorates when he leaves his middle-aged wife for a pretty young girlfriend, forcing the woman to face her own aging and life."Art Work" introduces a very artistic couple and their eccentric housekeeper -- who has a few secrets of her own. And "Chinese Lobster" takes on the sobering topic of sexual harrassment, when a young art student files a suit against a visiting professor who is lecturing on Matisse. But it turns out that the student may be the problem...
Matisse is sometimes the center of these stories, but elsewhere you can barely find the poor guy. His paintings -- and the destruction of them -- is the center of "Chinese Lobster." But his art is only a minor part of the other two stories. Byatt's flair for description doesn't fail her now -- she paints vivid, lush descriptions of restaurants, hair salons and past memories. At the same time, she adds small "everyday" touches like live lobsters, little dishes, paints.
While both "Medusa's Ankles" and "Chinese Lobster" are solid, self-contained little stories, "Art Work" is something of a mess. It seems to focus on too many subplots (Debbie's feelings about giving up her work, her husband's artwork) before settling on one. And her descriptions of art galleries and so forth seem rather off, as if she has never tussled with them and isn't sure how it happens.
While "Art Work" bogs down the overall effect somewhat, "Matisse Stories" is a charming little (very little) collection for fans of the French artist. Pretty and sometimes thought-provoking.
It seems that art is the main theme of each story. The lovely picture hung in the salon. The “housekeeper” that has the collage art show made out of all the “bids & bobs” she gathers at her customers house. The art student that is studying the nudes as she is thinking about her own body image.