- Paperback: 896 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (August 10, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307473066
- ISBN-13: 978-0307473066
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 2 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 147 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #333,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Children's Book Paperback – August 10, 2010
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“Majestic . . . Dazzling . . . Wonderful . . . . What you see here . . . is the strength and fire of Byatt’s imagination.” —The San Francisco Chronicle
“Bristling with life and invention. . . . A seductive work by an extraordinarily gifted writer.” —The Washington Post
“[Byatt’s] magnum opus. . . . Lushly detailed. . . . Every stitch of this tapestry is connected to the whole.” —The Seattle Times
“[A] masterpiece. . . . Her best yet.” —Newsday
“[A] ravishing epic. . . . This is a classic Byatt fusion of fact and uncannily luscious imagery, mixed in the ideal proportions: not too hot, not too cold—just right.” —Salon
“A stunning achievement: a novel of ideas that crackles with passion, energy and emotive force. . . . I did not want The Children’s Book to end . . . I wanted more of this ambitious, compelling novel, certainly Byatt’s best since Possession, and possibly her best ever.” —Patricia Hagen, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Unforgettable. . . . Eloquent. . . . Majestic and immensely ambitious . . . with masterly skill and literary tact. . . . A monument of a novel.” —The New York Review of Books
“Supremely fulfilling . . . wondrous . . . rich with period detail and sublime storytelling. . . . A mesmerizing exploration of, well, everything: families, secrets, love, innocence, corruption, art, the desire for knowledge, nature, politics, war, sex, power. Even puppetry.” —The Miami Herald
“Spellbinding. . . . Alive . . . Potent. . . . Byatt is a master storyteller.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“Sweeping. . . . A literary feast. . . . Byatt fills a huge canvas with the political and social changes that swept the world in those years . . . She elicits great compassion of the individual beings caught in that tableau. It’s not a tale you’ll soon forget.” —USA Today
“Intricately crafted, deeply satisfying. . . . Encompassing in scope and watch-maker precise in detail. . . . Fans of Possession, you’ve got yourself a new bedtime story.” —Yvonne Zipp, The Christian Science Monitor
“Rich, expansive. . . . Byatt is a spinner of multiple tales, adding gorgeous layers and dimensions to this fictional world.” —The Los Angeles Times
“Engaging and rewarding.” —The New Yorker
“A rich and ambitious work, steeped in ideas and capped with a lacerating final act. . . . Byatt’s penetrating, unsentimental style hits its mark. [The period] details are never less than fascinating.” —Time
“A complete and complex world, a gorgeous bolt of fiction. . . . The magic is in the way Byatt suffuses her novel with details, from the shimmery sets of a marionette show to clay mixtures and pottery glazes.” —The Atlantic Monthly
“Only Byatt could stuff this massive book so full of detail, character, and history while never losing track either of human feelings or of the sweeping, precipitous decline of the culture she documents.” —The Onion A.V. Club
“Fascinating . . . An exhilarating panorama . . . Passionate, intelligent. . . . A richly peopled narrative that encompasses an unusual breadth of artistic, intellectual, social, and political concerns . . . [Byatt is] a master builder, laying each brick of her tower with consummate skill. Here is a novel in which everything matters.” —Boston Sunday Globe
“Uncompromisingly erudite. . . . Like Possession, The Children’s Book is a tour de force of literary chameleonism and social history. . . . [It] brings to vivid life the often irreconcilable demands of being an artist and being a human being.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Wonderful, engaging. . . . A fine, rich, fully accomplished novel.” —The Dallas Morning News
“A kind of tragic fairy tale, and Byatt does fairy tales wonderfully.” —Newsweek
“A fascinating literary achievement. . . . [With a] captivating sense of language and narrative. . . . A more genuine look at young adulthood than any teenage wizards could hope to provide.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
"Riveting. . . . As this complex novel builds toward its finale, it forgoes one of Olive's enchanting endings in favor of something closer to life." —Time Out New York
"Stunning . . . . Magnificent. . . . Intricate. . . . Matching and arguably surpassing Possession in breadth and ambition." —Bookforum
“So well-researched that The Children’s Book could well have been a consummate history of the [Edwardian] era. . . . The book brims in rich pictorial description . . . But more than that, Byatt’s book is an astute moral lesson.” —Chicago Sun-Times
About the Author
A. S. Byatt is the author of numerous novels, including the quartet The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman; The Biographer’s Tale; and Possession, which was awarded the Booker Prize. She has also written two novellas, published together as Angels & Insects; five collections of shorter works, including The Matisse Stories and Little Black Book of Stories; and several works of nonfiction. A distinguished critic as well as a novelist, she lives in London.
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One of the reviews made some relationship of the length of this novel and one of Dickens. Dickens however got his length with a much better integration of the history with his characters and the plot. This author was jarring in her transitions were distracting. Her knowledge was excellent and perhaps reading one of her other books might work differently.
Moving through the many characters was confusing at first but I finally got everyone sorted out. The most effective demigod history and character came at the end of the book as she described the impact of WW I on everyone involved. I was left happier as a reader with the flow through this part - the integration of the survivors and the devastation along with the reconciliation was powerful.
The novel opens in what would become the Victoria and Albert Museum, where a young boy, Philip Warren, a runaway from child labor in the potteries, has taken refuge in a hidden chamber in the labyrinthine basement, emerging only to draw the objects on display -- for despite his early experiences, he has an acute eye and a love for well-made things. He attracts the attention of Olive Wellwood, a children's book author who has come to the museum seeking inspiration, and she takes him to stay with her family at Todefright in Kent (wonderful name!). Olive is a refugee from a mining community herself, and many of her stories are about dispossessed children and underground realms, so Philip's situation strikes a chord. He arrives in time for the Wellwoods' Midsummer party, where he will meet the large cast of children (and as many adults) whose lives will be followed over the next 650 pages.
Although beginning in the Victorian age, this is the 1890s, the end of the century. The novel's characters are not merchant princes and defenders of Empire, but artists, craftsmen, eccentrics, socialists, suffragists, pamphleteers, and nature worshipers. Byatt precisely evokes the liberal fringe of society reacting against Victorian industrialization, militarism, and commerce -- especially through the making of art. Philip, for instance, is soon introduced to Benedict Fludd, a temperamental genius who runs a pottery in the desolate Romney Marshes, where the boy gets a chance to produce original work of his own. Byatt, who taught at an art school in earlier life, has long had an interest in the visual arts, and one of the glories of this book are the objects that she conjures with such skill that you marvel at their originality and beauty.
Fairy tales have a way of touching on matters that children do not consciously understand, and as the novel probes backwards some very dark secrets come painfully into the light. But primarily the book moves forward; children grow up, lose their innocence, move into a world where fables can no longer sustain them. Many of the outcomes are happy, but with the new century the world itself is moving into a time of mourning a lost innocence that perhaps never existed. It is the age of children's stories; Kenneth Grahame (THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS), James Barrie (PETER PAN), and others were writing, perhaps in retreat from what they saw around them. Byatt handles the historical overview well, but there are places where she becomes more historian than novelist; the chapters describing the Paris Exposition of 1900 or the Munich cabaret scene of a few years later, brilliant as they are, almost lose the thread of the narrative, and perhaps there are too many famous people making convenient cameo appearances: Oscar Wilde, Auguste Rodin, Marie Stopes, and Emma Goldman, to name but a few. By the last third of the novel, the characters seem to be moved more by the tides of history than by their own volition. And the First World War is almost too easy a device for tying up the numerous narrative loose ends -- though Byatt handles the final pages with all her accustomed grace.
Behind Byatt's childlike charm there is also a smoldering anger, especially when she writes about women -- for this was also watershed era for feminism. Wealthy or poor, married or single, all her female characters seem to be looking for some truer realization of the self than society will easily allow them. One determines to become a doctor; another finds independent success as an artist. Two others go up to Newnham College, Cambridge, as Byatt herself did; there is a quality of strong personal conviction here, as a battle that needed to be fought then and must still be fought now. Indeed the whole novel, whose scope cannot be captured in a short review, seems the summation not only of Byatt's immense scholarship, but also her passion as an advocate of personal freedom. Words are her weapon, and she knows the power of story-telling to convey things that lie deeper than facts. But she also knows that some facts lie beyond the reach of stories, and that the writer may harm almost as easily as she can heal. Neither of the fictional authors portrayed in this book come over entirely as positive influences, and the latter part of the novel is almost a demonstration of the limitations of fiction. But also of its power.