Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

I loved this book with all of my heart. And I love A.S. Byatt for creating such a fantastic, marvelous, riveting journey for her readers. I really have no words to describe the amazing experience I consider this book to be, but I will try to impart some of my thoughts on it.
The book opens in the 1890's and centers around a middle class family called the Wellwoods. Humphry is a banker and Olive is a famous writer of children's books. As the book begins, Olive is visiting Major Cain, an employee of the Victoria & Albert Museum and has brought her son Tom along. Tom and Cain's son Julian discover a boy, Philip, who has been living in the basement of the museum, drawing its contents and dreaming of becoming a potter. The Wellwoods take Philip home and set him up with a famous potter of their acquaintance and we are now introduced to all of the families who inhabit this novel. 
The subsequent plot is a luscious exploration of the myriad characters, how they develop over the years and how the changes in society affect them and how they live. It doesn't sound very engaging, and there are many readers who hated this novel for its meandering storyline, but I loved the minutiae and the discussion of societal and cultural influences in England at this time in history. One of my favorite aspects of this novel was its focus on fairy tales and German puppetry, but there were so many other things that stirred my senses, piqued my curiosity, and delighted my soul. 
Byatt's writing is not for everyone. You have to have patience and a love of detail to really enjoy her novels. As much as I loved this book, there were times when I was exhaused reading about the history of various socialist organizations operating in England and Germany at the time. However, the payoff is worth the effort it takes to read her. The Children's Book is one of the best books I've read this year and I am so glad I took the time to do it.


  1. I'll have to see if I can borrow this or if they have it at our library. I'm not sure if I'll like it, but I really like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and you guys weren't all that thrilled with it so I guess I can read one I may not be so thrilled about! Actually, I'll probably like it. Sometimes what a book says about the time it was written in is the best part. I'll definitely give it a try!

  2. If you can't get a hold of this book, try Possession by Byatt. It is more accessible, I think, and you can get comfortable with her style while also enjoying a well-constructed plot.

  3. Would this be something I could do for a book group? Any weirdness in it?

  4. Kyla, it has incest, homosexuality and atheism, among other things. Probably not acceptable for your book group.