Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Alex's Review - The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

I am not a fan of big books. They are hard to read in bed and I hate constantly calculating: how many more pages to go? As with long movies, I always believe a judicious edit could do little harm to big books. The Children's Book is a massive tome - 615 pages.

I stuck with it because the subject matter and time period interest me enormously - artists/intellectuals/bourgeois moving from the Victorian to the Edwardian era. Family history is my secret vice and that aspect of the novel intrigued me too. I think that the novel would be well served in future editions by some attempt at a family tree or at least a list of characters to remind the reader of who's who.

A.S. Byatt had a kernel of an idea (like her heroine Olive Wellwood) which she fleshed out into a somewhat corpulent work. It's an interesting idea. It's about what we choose to tell children and what we don't....and how they muddle through anyway, informed or misinformed about who they are and their place in the world. We tell them "fairy" tales that upon deeper analysis are often heavily coded horror stories. The truth is often hard to tell and also hard to write. A.S. Byatt, I have no doubt, has researched her characters and time period very well. And yes, sometimes there are sermons from the mount or little lectures about periods in this history which miss their mark I find.

But the characters were well formed and interesting and I did want to know what happened to each and every one of the children - only sometimes I got lost along the way and wished I wasn't lost and that my hand had been held tighter and there wasn't so much extraneous stuff.

PS. I reckon I found an error at the top of the page on page 65 of the Chatto and Windus version - "Basil and Olive, fairy kind and fairy queen, spoke the golden speeches of blessing on married men and women, on children born and unborn." Doesn't she mean Humphrey? Or am I still very confused???

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