Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt


About the book: Published in 2009, The Children's Book is a novel by  A. S. Byatt, which is loosely based on children's author E. Nesbit's life. It was shortlisted for the 2009 Booker Prize.

Summary (partly from here.): The book 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. Olive Wellwood writes magical tales for children. On a visit to a museum, her son Tom finds a talented working-class boy, Philip, and they decide to take him home. The Wellwoods live in a house as fantastical as Olive's stories. Philip soon begins to realize, though, that their happy lives contain more darkness and secrets than they initially let on. The children grow up, not knowing what is about to come and their personal struggles are overshadowed by the golden era coming to an end. 

What I thought: After reading and falling in love with Elementals, a short story collection by A. S. Byatt, I immediately went and got this book. And I really wanted to love this book, ever since I saw the fabulous cover. I mean, look at that blue! But I felt like it was slightly overdone. It is long, and at times too complicated. It also has a very leisurely pace. The author takes her time describing every little detail, which I actually liked: my problem was that she has squeezed too much story, too many chunks of information into a couple of hundred pages at the end. In a way, it shows the suddenness of the children growing up, not remaining quite as innocent anymore or the effect of the abrupt end of an era - but it doesn't quite work that well.

I do love A. S. Byatt, though, and she is a brilliant writer. She paints vivid pictures in your head, which you couldn't erase even if you tried (I don't see why you would want to, either.) The book has a bit of everything - history, politics, society and best of all, family. I have discovered recently that I love historical fiction, for that feeling it gives you, like you're actually there - this book felt wonderful that way, specially when familiar names like Grahame and Wilde popped up. The easy flow of words and the deep characterization make this book much more special than Elementals.

I may not have loved this book as much as I wanted to (blame the sky-high expectations) but it is quite fabulous, nevertheless. So I would recommend this book, but be sure to save it for a some day when you have enough time.

5 comments:

Aarti said...

I have wanted to read this book since it came out but its length is a bit daunting to me. Any time I read a big book, I need side books to keep me feeling accomplished, and it just takes even longer to read the big one! But Byatt has such a beautiful writing style, I think I'd enjoy it.

Amy said...

Of Byatt's works, I've only read Possession. I *really* loved that book, but it was mainly the poetry that I loved about it. The scholars' stories were mildly interesting to me, but not enough to have made me love the book on their own. The poems made it rich and wonderful to me. For that reason, I've been reluctant to try another Byatt book. I want to love them, though! Maybe a story collection like Elementals would be the thing to try, as I'm reluctant to commit to one of her longer books.

Harish said...

Thanks, I will try this one definitely...

Priya -Tabula Rasa said...

It took me a long time to read it, and I was reading a couple of books during, as well. But you should read it if you already like Byatt's writing style. Thanks for stopping by :)

Priya -Tabula Rasa said...

I found Possession at the library, but took The Children's Book instead; now I am going to look for it again! Elementals is good, but for me, some stories were a bit too vague. But it is so small, you should try it if you like Byatt. Glad you stopped by :)

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