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The Children's Book [Hardcover]

A S Byatt
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (146 customer reviews)

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Book Description

7 May 2009

Olive Wellwood is a famous writer, interviewed with her children gathered at her knee. For each of them she writes a separate private book, bound in different colours and placed on a shelf. In their rambling house near Romney Marsh they play in a story-book world - but their lives, and those of their rich cousins, children of a city stockbroker, and their friends, the son and daughter of a curator at the new Victoria and Albert Museum, are already inscribed with mystery. Each family carries their own secrets.

Into their world comes a young stranger, a working-class boy from the potteries, drawn by the beauty of the Museum's treasures. And in midsummer a German puppeteer arrives, bringing dark dramas. The world seems full of promise but the calm is already rocked by political differences, by Fabian arguments about class and free love , by the idealism of anarchists from Russia and Germany. The sons rebel against their parents' plans; the girls dream of independent futures, becoming doctors or fighting for the vote.

This vivid, rich and moving saga is played out against the great, rippling tides of the day, taking us from the Kent marshes to Paris and Munich and the trenches of the Somme. Born at the end of the Victorian era, growing up in the golden summers of Edwardian times, a whole generation grew up unaware of the darkness ahead. In their innocence, they were betrayed unintentionally by the adults who loved them. In a profound sense, this novel is indeed the children's book.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Chatto & Windus; First Edition edition (7 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0701183896
  • ISBN-13: 978-0701183899
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 4.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (146 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 222,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A.S. Byatt is internationally known as a novelist, short-story writer and critic. Her novels include Possession (winner of the Booker Prize in 1990), and the quartet of The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman, as well as The Shadow of the Sun, The Game and The Biographer's Tale. Her latest novel, The Children's Book, is shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2009. She is also the author of two novellas, published together as Angels and Insects, and four collections of stories, and has co-edited Memory: An Anthology.

Educated at York and Newnham College, Cambridge, she taught at the Central School of Art and Design, and was Senior Lecturer in English at University College, London, before becoming a full-time writer in 1983. She was appointed CBE in 1990 and DBE in 1999.

Product Description


"Intricately worked and sumptuously inlaid novel...seethes and pulses with an entangled life, of the mind and the senses alike. Colour and sensation flood Byatt's writing...she is a master-potter, or magic-working puppeteer" -- Boyd Tonkin Independent "Superlatively displays both enormous reach and tremendous grip...sizzling with ideas and alive with imaginative energy, too...this is the most stirring novel AS Byatt has written since Possession" Sunday Times "Byatt is at her brilliant best...The fantasy here is dark and frightening, going to the edge of what a child can bear. Alongside such rich, strange meat, Harry Potter starts to feel like a vanilla snack for scaredy cats" Standpoint "Compelling...strenuously inclusive and also tremendously enriching - an intricate tale, energetically fashioned from sturdy strands of material, by "a spinning fairy in the attic", an indefatigable storyteller" Irish Times "Astonishing power and resonance" -- Jane Shilling Sunday Telegraph

Book Description

By the author of Possession, a marvellous, gripping, panoramic novel of family secrets, about predators and innocents, war and peace, art and society. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
161 of 168 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A S Byatt at her best 13 Jun 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Complex and many layered this book concentrates on two families and their friends. Olive is a children's author and lives with her sister Violet, husband Humphrey and their children at a country house called Todefright. They live an apparently idyllic Bohemian existence. Benedict Fludd a genius who makes pots lives, by contrast, in Bohemian squalor with his wife Seraphita and children Imogen, Pomona and Geraint. The families are friends and have friends in common - Prosper Cain, a curator at the new Victoria and Albert museum and his children Julian and Florence, and the Methleys who are very much involved with the Fabian Society and the suffragettes.

The book is about the relationships between these people and others but it is just as much about the age they live in from 1895 to 1919. Historical personages flit into and out of the story. The main characters are inluenced by the morals and manners of the age they live in. The background is lush and decadent as the Victorian age gives way to the Edwardian. Social class is an issue and the Labour movement is gathering supporters.

The relationships between the characters are convoluted and nothing is what it seems. The arts and crafts they produce are rich and somehow redolent of decay. All are affected by the Great War and few come through it unscathed. The writing, as one might expect from this author is at once lush and austere. Characters are taken apart with a scalpel and their thoughts and feelings dissected for our entertainment. Descriptions are full of symbolism and many layered meanings. Conversations are cryptic and issues go unresolved and unmentioned.
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123 of 130 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Is there an editor in the house? 18 Jan 2010
By EmmaH
Few books have left me with such mixed reactions. The first half seemed to lack momentum, and it wasn't difficult to pin down why. Too much emphasis on the interior life of the eternally self-absorbed Olive Wellwood and her ceaseless and rather dull fairy tales. Rather too much fanciful description of the artistic impulse and, more specifically, much repetitive detail on pottery making. Plot often played second fiddle to didactic social historical analysis. And with such a large cast of characters, many are given rather short shrift and potentially dramatic situations bypassed in a sentence or two - for instance, Humphry's ongoing affair with Olive's sister, Violet.

By the second half things began to pick up. We leave the older characters behind, which is a blessing since most of them were frankly odious - only Prosper Cain and Anselm Stern offering a counterbalance to the glut of conscienceless, philandering males. As the Victorian era gives way to the Edwardian, we move into a period of restless social change and emerging feminism that gives an added dynamism to the lives of the younger generation, and generally they acquit themselves with far more wisdom and integrity than their parents. Of course, you can see where it's all going to end - in the mud and trenches of the Great War - but this adds poignancy to their youthful idealism and their struggles to establish themselves in a rapidly changing world. History, as we know, is about to overtake them. And the inevitable denouement was indeed moving, with its rash of dreaded letters and longed-for reunions.

Byatt demonstrates many qualities of a great novelist. She is a consummate social historian, and a master of characterisation - you never fail to believe in her creations as real people.
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90 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard journeys from innocence to experience 25 July 2009
By John Ferngrove TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is the first Byatt I've read since her marvellous Possession, and I suppose the first point is that it's not remotely similar, except in terms of weight and intent. Make no mistake. This is not an easy read, and I am used to serious books. Certainly, in the first half of the book I found myself unsure as to why my progress was so slow, despite finding time spent with it richly fascinating, and finding myself at moments bowled over and deeply moved by the psychological perspicacity of her writing. For reasons I cannot give away the momentum somehow leaps forward at around the half way mark, to effect a transition between a richly erudite but somehow uphill beginning to an ending, so compelling, throughout which one's heart is rising ever further into one's mouth.

The book brings vividly to life the years between 1895 to the end of the Great War, which is an era I have had little sympathy with before now. The book is about so many things, following an unusually large numnber of characters, through an intricate maze of plot lines and relationships. It is perhaps this shear ambition that made the earlier parts of the book somehow hard to keep going with and to develop visually in the mind's eye.

Being an aging flower-child myself, trying to hang on to whatever threads of idealism life might deign to leave me with, I find I am ever more fascinated by how the radical impulse has manifested in other times, and I suppose that is a main theme of the book, if there is one. We follow a cast of characters that are focussed with more or less sympathy around a household which is connected to all the multifarious expressions of radicalism as it was in this still so innocent time.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful
A marvellous story which captures the social,economic and political years from its Victorian beginnings to the first world war. Read more
Published 12 days ago by willow
5.0 out of 5 stars magical
This book took me in to another world, the past, I really lived with all the wonderfully drawn, believable characters.
Published 13 days ago by Janey
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great item
Published 23 days ago by H. Newman
5.0 out of 5 stars masterpiece
Typical of her big novels, Byatt takes half the book to establish the complex world in which her main action takes place. Read more
Published 2 months ago by westmer
5.0 out of 5 stars The Children's Book
Loved this! Took a lot of hours to read but the scope was huge and covered two very active generations. Had it been any shorter the writer could not have done it justice. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Clare Broadhurst
4.0 out of 5 stars The children's Book
I was recommended this book and found it quite thought provoking. I shall probably read more books by this author.
Published 5 months ago by Mrs. D. Yuill
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
An brilliant insight into social history and the lives of interesting people at the end of the nineteenth century. Characters are interesting and very well drawn. great plot.
Published 6 months ago by MRS J L BAXTER
1.0 out of 5 stars demented use of characters and details
It was like walking through treacle. Too much detail about every character and far too many characters. I was losing the will to live.
Published 7 months ago by Maude1963
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite a challenging read - but worth the effort
This book is magical. It weaves together elements associated with "stories" both ancient and modern - and everything in between. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Cascade
5.0 out of 5 stars This is not, as the title suggeste, a book for children, but a novel...
A fascinating story of life in Victorian England, with family life, puppets,artists, plus the creation of wonderful pottery of that period. Well researched. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Judy Martin
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