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The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

The Children's Book (edition 2010)

by A.S. Byatt

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2,572None2,324 (3.84)460
Title:The Children's Book
Authors:A.S. Byatt
Info:Vintage (2010), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 896 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

  1. 71
    The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton (rbtanger)
    rbtanger: Similar in time frame to The Children's Book, but with a much more satisfactory central mystery and ending. Also contains a fairy-tale authoress and several inserted "tales".
  2. 40
    War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (WoodsieGirl)
    WoodsieGirl: The more I read of The Children's Book, the more it reminded me of War and Peace - the same juxtaposition of small-scale, human dramas against the sweep of history, and the same knack for introducing characters as children who are recognisably the same people as the adults at the end of the book.… (more)
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    Atonement by Ian McEwan (BookshelfMonstrosity)
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    Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (kidzdoc)

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» See also 460 mentions

English (140)  Dutch (4)  Italian (2)  Norwegian (1)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  All languages (149)
Showing 1-5 of 140 (next | show all)
What a read. The Children's Book is about the lives of an interlocking group of families at the very start of the twentieth century. The central family is the Wellwoods, artistic and Fabian, with many children swirling around Olive Wellwood (a writer), her husband Humphry and her sister Violet. Other families are linked to them by family, friendship or coincidences. The stories are densely told, in prose which is as ornamented as the art of the Victorian era but at the same time, every word seems to be absolutely essential to the depiction of these complex characters and their relationships with each other.

I think this book is really about creation. The creation of pieces of art: stories, theatrical events and physical artworks. Byatt's writing vividly conveys both the beauty and impact of the art and the visceral hunger of the artist to create, and to draw inspiration from everything around them. The political ferment of the time and its desire to create new kinds of people, of societies, of relations between the sexes. And above all, the creation of individuals: the way that parents try (and fail) to shape their children's lives, and the way those children create themselves into the adults they become. Of course, the other side of creation is destruction, and we see plenty of that too - the genius artist who destroys his own masterpieces, the destruction of people's lives by the thoughtless or evil actions of others, the destructive ferment of anarchism. And at the very end, the First World War.

So this book is also about the period of time in which it was set, a time in which so many of the changes which have created our modern world were set in train, but perhaps also a world of hope and possibility, whose gilded nature was impossible to recover after those four years of blood and devastation.

I found this a wonderful read. It reminded me a little of my experience of reading Byatt's Possession when I was about 18, which I felt really opened my eyes to the richness and depth of good writing (as opposed to just reading for the story).

Incidentally, the cover is excellent. A turquoise Lalique brooch, surrounded by curlicues and ornamentations which somehow bring to mind both William Morris and the Victoria and Albert Museum, one of the key settings in the book. And on the back, a faint black silhouette against a dark blue background, of WWI soldiers marching raggedly across the battlefields. ( )
5 vote wandering_star | Apr 3, 2014 |
A wonderful book, beautifully written, with very strong characters, about Britain in the early 20th Century. ( )
  JaneBow | Feb 6, 2014 |
Dark and dense, with intertwining characters and a strong sense of time and place. It is about families, and hidden depths. Most of all, the book is about creation : creating pots and puppets, fairy tales
and stage plays and a museum to house decorative arts. It is also about invention and re-creation: inventing a new identity, a new name, a hidden world in a tree house where time stands still, the appearance of a happy family.

Olive, the matriarch of the book, grew up with her sister Violet as a miner's daughter. She becomes a best -selling author of fairy tales that appeal to children and adults. Violet becomes part of the wallpaper and has no life of her own. Olive writes personal fairy tales for each of her children - the longest and most complicated for her oldest son, Tom, about a boy who loses his shadow and goes underground to seek it. She eventually mines the story for ideas for publications, and does not notice that Tom has not lost his shadow but his soul.

It is about how destructive creativity can be, especially for those close to the creator. In an interview about the book, AS Byatt mentions Kenneth Grahame : The Wind in the Willows was born out of letters to his son, but the young man laid himself down on the railway tracks before his twentieth birthday.

( )
  dylkit | Feb 3, 2014 |
A. S. Byattin The Children's Book on suuri teos, monella tapaa. Seurattavia ihmiskohtaloita on paljon ja ajanjakso on pitkä. Kerronta on kuitenkin taitavaa, ja Byatt kuvaa hienosti ilmapiirin muuttumista edvardiaanisen ajan optimismista lähestyvän suursodan epätoivoon. Teos jättää lukijalle tulkinnanvaraa – etenkin varsinaisessa kysymyksessä, ketkä tarinan todelliset lapset oikein ovatkaan. ( )
  Hruo | Jan 15, 2014 |
A. S. Byatt wrote one of my favourite books of all time, Possession. I didn't know if this book would live up to Possession and I was almost afraid to read it in case it didn't. In fact, the other Byatt book I have read, Angels and Insects, was a disappointment for me. However, I am happy to report that I loved this book. It was well worth the ten or so days it took me to read it.

The book is set at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. England, coming to the end of Victoria's reign, was in a time of flux. The main characters in this book, the Wellwoods, were socialists and raised their children rather more liberally than might have been normal. Olive Wellwood came from a coal mining area but while in London she met Humphry who worked for the Bank of England and they fell in love. Olive's sister, Violet, keeps house for them while Olive writes children's stories. When Humphry resigns his position in the Bank of England due to philosophical differences with his brother, Basil, who also works there Olive's stories provide the money to keep their household afloat. There are seven living children and for each of them Olive writes a continuing story. Tom, the eldest, is loved best by Olive and Dorothy, the oldest girl, resents this.

Other children figure into the story. There is Philip, found hiding in the basement of a museum by Julian Cain (son of one of the museum's curators) and Tom. Philip ran away from his home in the pottery making region but desperately wants to make pots himself. There are the other Wellwoods, Charles and Griselda, born with silver spoons in their mouths but not really wanting to be part of the upper class. In fact, Charles changes his name to Karl, after Karl Marx, when his tutor allows him to read some of his books.

There's really too many characters to explore them all in a brief review. They intermingle over the years and, sometimes, if it had been a while since a character was mentioned, I would have to think for a few minutes to remember where they belonged. That's not necessarily a bad thing; it was like meeting an old friend after not hearing from them for years.

As the new century unfolds and the children get older they discover things about themselves, their parents, their comrades and "what they want to be when they grow up". Women were fighting for the vote and to be admitted to Universities and professional callings and to be taken seriously. Looking at that time from this vantage point it is hard to fathom why these aspirations had to be fought for as it seems obvious now that women should be equal with men.

There is also a backdrop of the Arts and Crafts movement to this book which was quite fascinating to me. The gorgeous cover shows a brooch that was on display at the Paris Exhibition which indicates the creativity in existence. I would like to learn more about William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement.

Of course, World War I caught all these people in its maw and chewed them up. Some died, some were physically mangled and all were psychologically damaged. It seemed appropriate to finish this up as we kept Remembrance Day.

Highly recommended. ( )
  gypsysmom | Nov 12, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 140 (next | show all)
The novel has a tendency to sprawl, with too many characters and too much to say. Yet Byatt takes tender care with the reader. She is a careful guide, and though this entry is at times a lot to process, it’s a worthwhile journey.
While Byatt’s engagement with the period’s over­lapping circles of artists and reformers is serious and deep, so much is stuffed into “The Children’s Book” that it can be hard to see the magic forest for all the historical lumber — let alone the light at the end of the narrative tunnel. The action is sometimes cut off at awkward moments by ponderous newsreel-style voice-over or potted lectures in cultural history. Startling revelations are dropped in almost nonchalantly and not picked up again until dozens or even hundreds of pages later. Byatt’s coda on the Great War, dispatched in scarcely more pages than the Exposition Universelle, is devastating in its restraint. But too often readers may feel as if they’re marooned in the back galleries of a museum with a frighteningly energetic docent.
Byatt’s characters are themselves her dutiful puppets, always squeezed and shaped for available meaning. The Children’s Book has a cumulative energy and intelligence, and the unavoidable scythe of the Great War brings its own power to the narration, but nowhere in its hundreds of pages is there a single moment like the Countess Rostova’s free and mysterious irritation.
added by jburlinson | editLondon Review of Books, James Wood (pay site) (Oct 8, 2009)
As in her Booker Prize–winning novel, Possession, here Byatt has constructed a complete and complex world, a gorgeous bolt of fiction, in this case pinned to British events and characters from the 1870s to the end of the Great War...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.
added by Shortride | editThe Atlantic (Oct 1, 2009)
It begins with the discovery of a boy hiding in a museum.

The time is 1895, the boy is Philip Warren, and the museum is the precursor to the Victoria & Albert: the South Kensington Museum. And, oh, yes –there’s a remarkable piece of art that the boy is besotted with — the Gloucester Candlestick. However, while this may make many children’s book mavens think immediately of E. L. Konigsburg’s classical story for children, let me say straight out — A. S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book is a book for grown-ups. It is emphatically not a children’s book although it is about children, about books, about art, about the writing of children’s books, about the telling of children’s stories, about the clash between life and art, and about a whole lot more. A saga of a book teeming with complex characters, fascinating settings, intellectual provocations, and erudite prose, it gets under your skin as you get deeper and deeper into it and won’t let you go even after you reach the last page....

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Byatt, A.S.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Parker, StephenCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
Two boys stood in the Prince Consort Gallery, and looked down on a third. It was June 19th, 1895.
"So dangerous, don't you think, giving romantic names to little scraps who may grow up as plain as doorposts."
She didn't like to be talked about. Equally, she didn't like NOT to be talked about, when the high-minded chatter rushed on as though she wasn't there. There was no pleasing her, in fact. She had the grace, even at eleven, to know there was no pleasing her. She thought a lot, analytically, about other people's feelings, and had only just begun to realise that this was not usual, and not reciprocated.
She was not really a playwright. The auditions taught her that. A true playwright makes up people who can be inhabited by actors. A storyteller makes shadow people in the head, autonomous and complete.
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The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt is not the same as The Children's Book edited by Frances Hodgson Burnett, even though Librarything's program has confused the two.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307272095, Hardcover)


for the Man Booker Prize

A spellbinding novel, at once sweeping and intimate, from the Booker Prize–winning author of Possession, that spans the Victorian era through the World War I years, and centers around a famous children’s book author and the passions, betrayals, and secrets that tear apart the people she loves.

When Olive Wellwood’s oldest son discovers a runaway named Philip sketching in the basement of the new Victoria and Albert Museum—a talented working-class boy who could be a character out of one of Olive’s magical tales—she takes him into the storybook world of her family and friends.

But the joyful bacchanals Olive hosts at her rambling country house—and the separate, private books she writes for each of her seven children—conceal more treachery and darkness than Philip has ever imagined. As these lives—of adults and children alike—unfold, lies are revealed, hearts are broken, and the damaging truth about the Wellwoods slowly emerges. But their personal struggles, their hidden desires, will soon be eclipsed by far greater forces, as the tides turn across Europe and a golden era comes to an end.

Taking us from the cliff-lined shores of England to Paris, Munich, and the trenches of the Somme, The Children’s Book is a deeply affecting story of a singular family, played out against the great, rippling tides of the day. It is a masterly literary achievement by one of our most essential writers.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:49:48 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

When Olive Wellwood's oldest son discovers a runaway named Philip sketching in the basement of the new Victoria and Albert Museum--a talented working-class boy who could be a character out of one of Olive's magical tales--she takes him into the storybook world of her family and friends--a world that conceals more treachery and darkness than Philip has ever imagined and that will soon be eclipsed by far greater forces.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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