The Children's Book

The Children's Book

eBook - 2009
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From the renowned author of Possession , The Children's Book is the absorbing story of the close of what has been called the Edwardian summer: the deceptively languid, blissful period that ended with the cataclysmic destruction of World War I. In this compelling novel, A.S. Byatt summons up a whole era, revealing that beneath its golden surface lay tensions that would explode into war, revolution and unbelievable change -- for the generation that came of age before 1914 and, most of all, for their children.

The novel centres around Olive Wellwood, a fairy tale writer, and her circle, which includes the brilliant, erratic craftsman Benedict Fludd and his apprentice Phillip Warren, a runaway from the poverty of the Potteries; Prosper Cain, the soldier who directs what will become the Victoria and Albert Museum; Olive's brother-in-law Basil Wellwood, an officer of the Bank of England; and many others from every layer of society. A.S. Byatt traces their lives in intimate detail and moves between generations, following the children who must choose whether to follow the roles expected of them or stand up to their parents' "porcelain socialism."

Olive's daughter Dorothy wishes to become a doctor, while her other daughter, Hedda, wants to fight for votes for women. Her son Tom, sent to an upper-class school, wants nothing more than to spend time in the woods, tracking birds and foxes. Her nephew Charles becomes embroiled with German-influenced revolutionaries. Their portraits connect the political issues at the heart of nascent feminism and socialism with grave personal dilemmas, interlacing until The Children's Book becomes a perfect depiction of an entire world.

Olive is a fairy tale writer in the era of Peter Pan and Kenneth Grahame's The Wind In the Willows , not long after Alice's Adventures in Wonderland . At a time when children in England suffered deprivation by the millions, the concept of childhood was being refined and elaborated in ways that still influence us today. For each of her children, Olive writes a special, private book, bound in a different colour and placed on a shelf; when these same children are ferried off into the unremitting destruction of the Great War, the reader is left to wonder who the real children in this novel are.

The Children's Book is an astonishing novel. It is an historical feat that brings to life an era that helped shape our own as well as a gripping, personal novel about parents and children, life's most painful struggles and its richest pleasures. No other writer could have imagined it or created it.


From the Hardcover edition.
Publisher: Toronto : Vintage Canada, 2009
ISBN: 9780307373830
0307373835
Characteristics: 1 online resource

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m
miekeprummel
Nov 06, 2016

This is one of my favorite books by A.S. Byatt. It gives insight into the lives of the privileged class in Ireland and England in the early 1900's. It is a family saga over a few generations and I enjoyed how the children's lives are portrayed.

r
reshpectabiggle
Sep 02, 2014

Interesting history, boring and tedious story, entirely too much sexual abuse. Probably why this person is a prizewinner, but I didn't enjoy this book at all.

u
uncommonreader
Jul 27, 2012

Set at the end of the Victorian era, this book is about children growing up in the Edwardian period and is peopled with Fabians, anarchists, the V&A, the Arts and Crafts movement, etc. The characters are unconscious of the darkness and slaughter to come with WW I. Very good.

melwyk Feb 13, 2012

This is a huge, sprawling saga taking us through the Edwardian Age up into the First World War and its end. I have a particular fondness for the Edwardians and so was very intrigued by the first intimations of the theme of this novel.

I can't really do this justice in a short review; there is too much in its 617 pages to summarize. If you have the patience to wade through quite a lot of social history and have an interest in Art Nouveau and textile arts, I think it is worth reading. If you're a Byatt fan you will also like it; there's no violent alteration in her style or subject matter to object to here.

The jacket designer did a fantastic job as well; the cover is gorgeous and comes straight out of the novel. This is a novel full of the magic and mystery of the decorative arts, of writing and storytelling, of the struggles of family relationships and the finally unknowable secrets within each person.

g
gvlee
Oct 20, 2011

I gave up in the middle of Chapter 4 when there was still no plot to be found. The book seems like a vehicle to expound on the virtues of enlightened English intellectuals. This is fine, but it lacks tension. It probably gets better, but I lacked the patience to find out. Write a review and let me know if it picks up further on!

j
Janice21383
Oct 18, 2011

Slooooooow and over-stressed, even though I'm a buff on this era. Maybe that's why I didn't like it. I kept thinking about the Edwardian authors I would rather be reading (Shaw, Wilde, Barrie, Beerbohm, Morris, Wells, Bennett...) Seriously, use the six months it will take to read The Children's Book, and read them instead. Most of TCB is stolen from them, anyway.

stewaroby Apr 19, 2011

One for the butterfly mind brigade. I loved it because I got the feeling I was learning things in a relatively painless way but it was about things I was already interested in, like the Victoria and Albert museum, the fight for women's suffrage,the First World War, puppets, pottery and fairy tales. A book list of titles about some of the subjects Byatt covers would be useful.

Cdnbookworm Apr 18, 2011

This is a long book (over 600 pages) and it took me quite a while to get "into" it. The book follows a large number of characters, beginning with Olive Wellwood, an author of fairytales, and her family, and continuing on with relations, friends (both English and German), and the children resulting from all of these people. The book begins in 1895 and ends with the end of World War One. While there is a strong focus on the children of the different families and their development and interaction, we also see how this development affects the adults.
There is a lot of information around fairy tales, both German and English and their history and their popularity during this time period that I found very interesting. Another theme that came out related to the fairy tales was puppetry, particularly that of German puppet traditions.
Pottery was another strong theme that arose here with two characters being gifted in this area. There were also other writers and producers of plays that had lesser roles in the book.
With all these creative characters, a strong them for me was the genius of the artist, both physical and mental. The temperment of the artist to engross themselves in their work at the expense of those around them and the public success they valued less than their own feelings of accomplishment.
Another strong theme here was one of politics. There was a lot going on politically during this time period, including the Fabians, women's suffrage, labour union actions, anarchists, and socialism. We get glimpses into all of these within this novel and see how politics can fill the needs of some individuals.
While the events of World War One are only a small section of this novel, I felt that they were done very well, and I liked how the ending brought some interesting outcomes for the characters.
As I said, it took a while to enjoy this novel and get drawn in, but by the end I was thoroughly enjoying it and I learned so much besides.
After reading I noted a great interview with the author by one of the Dewey Divas: http://deweydivas.blogspot.com/2009/05/interview-with-s-byatt-on-her-new-novel.html
I really found this interesting after reading the novel.

m
mmga
Apr 01, 2011

I cannot stop thinking about this book. The thesis on generational change and legacy, self indulgence and the prices paid by those that follow kept me thinking long after I had put this down. Brilliant.

c
charlie2009
Dec 16, 2010

I really liked this book because it was about an ara that I knew little about and I found the dymanics of the charaters quite facinating.

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texlongone
Mar 03, 2011

texlongone thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over

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vickiz
Mar 14, 2010

... failure with clay was more complete and more spectacular than with other forms of art. You are subject to the elements, he said. Any one of the old four - earth, air, fire, water - can betray you and melt, or burst, or shatter - months of work into dust and ashes and spitting steam. You need to be a precise scientist, and you need to know how to play with what chance will do to your lovingly constructed surfaces in the heal of the kiln. 'It's purifying fire and demonic fire,' he said to Philip, who took in every word and nodded gravely. 'Very dangerous, very simple, very elemental - '

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