After seeing the movie version years ago, I tried the novel and got stuck. I had occasion to pick it up again, and this time, I found my way through it. While I appreciate the multitude of forms it contains (letters, journals, poems, etc.), I found some of those sections slow. Byatt has a lot going on here. On one level, this is a satire of academia and all of its schools of thought. Byatt seems to be showing off in some places, like a director making a movie about movies. Read this way, the climactic scene makes sense.
If the book is read any other way, the ending seems silly, a slapdash effort to bring many, many strands of plot and characters together. But I think the satirical reading is a superficial one, though not inappropriate. Byatt has another goal here, a conversation between that which endures and that which is temporary (like us, like dust). Because we are the proverbial food for worms, we seek to leave our mark – with our written words, with our work, and even in our children. Byatt, ironically, inclines toward the romantic (both with a capital R and without) moment. After 550 pages, we are unsure what will happen with Roland and Maud and that’s okay; we are confident that they will figure it out.