- Paperback: 896 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (August 10, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307473066
- ISBN-13: 978-0307473066
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.5 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (151 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #607,836 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Children's Book Paperback – August 10, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Byatt's overstuffed latest wanders from Victorian 1895 through the end of WWI, alighting on subjects as diverse as puppetry, socialism, women's suffrage and the Boer War, and suffers from an unaccountably large cast. The narrative centers on two deeply troubled families of the British artistic intelligentsia: the Fludds and the Wellwoods. Olive Wellwood, the matriarch, is an author of children's books, and their darkness hints at hidden family miseries. The Fludds' secrets are never completely exposed, but the suicidal fits of the father, a celebrated potter, and the disengaged sadness of the mother and children add up to a chilling family history. Byatt's interest in these artists lies with the pain their work indirectly causes their loved ones and the darkness their creations conceal and reveal. The other strongest thread in the story is sex; though the characters' social consciences tend toward the progressive, each of the characters' liaisons are damaging, turning high-minded talk into sinister predation. The novel's moments of magic and humanity, malignant as they may be, are too often interrupted by information dumps that show off Byatt's extensive research. Buried somewhere in here is a fine novel. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Gorgeously stuffed? Or overstuffed? Critics were clearly split on Byatt's latest offering. Several enthusiastically praised The Children's Book as a stunning literary achievement, a thinking person's novel, and the most noteworthy of Byatt's books since Possession was published almost 20 years ago. Others argued that, while Byatt is adept at richly evoking the Edwardian era, the book stumbles under the weight of its own excess. Too many characters, too many scandalous events, too many puppet shows, and too many passages on social history caused the exhausted critic from the Houston Chronicle to state: "Even the dirty parts ... seem to drag." Overall, however, The Children's Book is a worthy novel for dedicated Byatt fans who like their tomes dense, descriptive, and multilayered. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
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 back-and-forth in other reviews on Byatt's use of detail may create the impression that, for better or for worse, this will be a difficult book, the sort of thing that feels like work even for those who appreciate its intentions and admire its depth. For some readers this will of course be true. But others will have an experience like mine: loving The Children's Book for pure pleasure of reading, flying through 425 pages in a single day, staying up until 5:00 AM to finish the book and feeling emotionally devastated in the best possible way afterward.
The historical detail was part of this. One might get the impression from some of the reviews that Byatt just throws random facts in to show off that she's done a lot of research. In fact the detail, while extensive, is shaped by Byatt so that it both reveals the aspects of life in that era that interest her and works as literature. I haven't read enough novels with such ambition; it is, perhaps, out of vogue at present.
The characters are fascinating too. I fully respect that the novel's digressive structure makes it difficult for many readers to connect emotionally to the characters' dramas. I had no such trouble. I felt like their stories were worth waiting for, and that a greater superficial tightness of construction would damage their plausibility and undermine the sense of constant incipience that defines the lives of some children and young adults. It is this sense of the reality of the characters' lives that makes their encounter with the brutality of World War I all the more devastating. The thing with novels about war is that their characters are in some sense created to die-- it's hard to create a full sense of who they were and what they wanted from life before the war came. The sudden outbreak of the conflict fifty pages from the end of this 675 page book gives the war a shadow (what more can literature ever give) of its historical terror.
I see that these rambling remarks don't add up to much of a review. I hope they'll help someone nonetheless. Here's one more: in response to an interview question on how she wished to be read, Byatt observed in a general context that "Readers should be empowered to skip." If you're thinking about reading The Children's Book but are worried about its length or level of detail, take the plunge. If something bores you, skip it. It's better to read and enjoy part of a book than to fail to read all of it. I think Publishers Weekly was a bit silly in saying "Buried somewhere in here is a fine novel," but if you find you share that impression, feel free to dig around for it.
In the meantime, I am going to give "Possession" another try!