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The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt
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The Children's Book (edition 2010)

by A.S. Byatt

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,6981542,197 (3.85)1 / 513
Member:Crotchetymama
Title:The Children's Book
Authors:A.S. Byatt
Info:Vintage (2010), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 896 pages
Collections:Your library, Kindle
Rating:****
Tags:ebook

Work details

The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt

Recently added byonodsle, INorris, lynetterl, private library, kaylaraeintheway, altairalex, kethorn23
  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 Léon Tolstoï (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)
  3. 30
    Atonement by Ian McEwan (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  4. 00
    The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey (JoEnglish)
  5. 00
    Sugar and Other Stories by A. S. Byatt (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: The genesis of "The Children's Book" can be seen in the short story, "The Changeling".
  6. 23
    Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (kidzdoc)
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English (146)  Dutch (3)  Italian (2)  Norwegian (1)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  All languages (154)
Showing 1-5 of 146 (next | show all)
"The Children's Book" is the story of an extended artistic English family and their acquaintances from 1895 to 1919. At the center is the Wellwood family. Olive Wellwood, the mother, is a successful writer of children's stories about fairies, mythological creatures and strange worlds--she also writes a personalized on-going fairytale for each of her children. But it is the real, everyday, lives of the children as they grow up during this wonderfully complex and fascinating time that make the plot of this novel. A.S. Byatt, as she did in "Possession," creates such a vivid picture of this time period and setting, that you feel like you were part of that era. She gives us titles of what they were reading, the philosophies, the art movements, the political discussions, all of it interesting and intriguing. It took me a long time to finish, but I enjoyed it very much. Though this book did not have the satisfying ending that "Possession" had, it is well worth reading. ( )
  Marse | Mar 2, 2015 |
'the children running wild in safe woods, in dappled sunlight, the parents smilingly there when they came home', 14 January 2015

This review is from: The Children's Book (Paperback)
Wonderful novel, set over the years 1895-1919. The main families are the Wellwoods - mother an E Nesbit-like character, the several children leading an apparently idyllic life with a tree house and wonderful Midsummer parties - and their wealthy (and half-German) cousins. Their circle includes various other households: the artistic Fludds; the Cains, whose father is curator at the V & A Museum; a local theatre director. But life is not always what it seems: one of the daughters becomes aware of 'horrible secrets bubbling up around her like hot geysers out of a lava-field.'
While the lives of the individuals move on (and it feels like a large cast at first - I had to write down the various family trees), so does the outside world. While Arts and Crafts and literature occupies some, others are caught up in society's problems, investigating Fabianism, anarchy, Women's Suffrage... The reader is immersed in history as 'The Golden age' of Edwardian times moves into 'The Age of Lead' of war.
In the earlier stages this seemed at times like an over-long, excessively detailed work, but as you come towards the end, and the it's absolutely beautiful and exquisitely sad for many of the characters. ( )
  starbox | Jan 13, 2015 |
I don't think I've ever been as desperate for a book to magically never end as I was during the last 200 pages of The Children's Book. I would have been thrilled if this 879 page novel was double the size if I could spend more time with the multitude of characters in this book.

Byatt has created a world of fairy tales, with all of their brutality and wonder, that mirror real life and vice versa. The central family is headed by Olive Wellwood, a writer of children's books, and mother to seven children. The first part of the book focuses on the adults and their friends and relations during the end of the Victorian era. They are progressive for the time, but still "Victorian" on the outside, though we find later that there have been many secrets. As the children grow up and verge on adulthood, the Edwardian era begins. The adults become a bit marginalized here, as is often true to life, and the younger generation's struggles come to the fore. Byatt does an amazing job of using history of the period to integrate seamlessly with her characters' motivations, problems, and interactions with each other and their parents' generation. Women's suffrage is central for a while and then, of course, the book ends with the horror of WWI as so many lives did. As the historical time period changes, so does the language and tone of the book. I found this skill impressive.

The arts are central to the book. Obviously, writing is central, but also pottery and puppetry and theater and poetry. How does Byatt know so much? It's really amazing how much I learn when I read one of her books. None of it seems gratuitous, though. I feel that it all adds to the tapestry of the story.

Byatt is a dense writer. Her language is ornate and poetic and I easily got lost in her world. The fairy tales that she creates or recreates relate to each character and each character's reactions to the fairy tales also illuminate his/her personality. And there are many, many characters to keep track of. They are all individuals and all well-developed, though, and I wouldn't have wanted any of them to not be there.

This book takes an investment of time with its length and density, but it is well worth it. I loved it. ( )
1 vote japaul22 | Jan 12, 2015 |
I love this book, it is interesting on so many levels, historically, socially and is just a really good tale. Have now read it three times and each time find something I missed.
one to keep ( )
  ssellis | Jan 11, 2015 |
I haven't read much Byatt since I finished my thesis last spring, and I didn't realize how much I missed her writing. This was somewhat different (for me, at least) from her other works that I've read, in a way I can't quite put my finger on. It spans social and political changes over a rather large period of time, centering primarily on the Wellwood family and others that have entered their social circles at some point or another. The large cast of characters could make it a bit difficult to remember who was who at some points, but overall I think I enjoyed all of them - they all had their roles to play in the big picture.

Now, my thesis was on her use of fairy tales and fairy tale elements - if she's written this novel a few years ago, I probably could have centered the whole thesis on it! Fairy tales are vital to this story. Olive Wellwood is a writer of children's stories in Victorian (and later, Edwardian) England, and her fairy stories and themes almost define her family.

I especially loved her portrayal of women in this novel. Olive's children (and their childhood playmates) are growing up in a time when it is becoming accepted for "respectable" women to hold "real" jobs - but often at the cost of any romantic desires or chances of marriage. Dorothy (who wants to pursue the career of a doctor/surgeon) is perhaps the most affected by the double standard, observing that although there are female doctors with husbands, those are few and far between. Griselda and Florence grapple with this decision as well. One can pursue a career, but by the time her studies are through in her late 20's, she would would be considered something of an old maid. One of my favorite passages in the novel that sums this struggle up nicely comes on page 495:

Florence was in a turmoil. She had promised herself to Geraint, and she was now promising herself to years of study. She did not think Newnham College would care for married students. She wished to disturb her father, at some ferocious girlish level, and felt - she was not really thinking - that the engagement would do that.
And yet - like Griselda, she did want to think. And she did see her future as, perhaps, the choice between thinking and sex."


Byatt has always done a wonderful job of exploring the roles that women play in various situations, past and present. This novel is no exception. ( )
  ashleyk44 | Jul 8, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 146 (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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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Byatt, A. S.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
McKenzie, NicoletteNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parker, StephenCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Two boys stood in the Prince Consort Gallery, and looked down on a third. It was June 19th, 1895.
Quotations
"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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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)

Shortlisted



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)

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