The Children's Book
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The Children's Book

3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  9,653 ratings  ·  1,724 reviews
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 storybook world - but their lives, and those of their rich cousins, children of a city stockbroker, and their friends, the son a...more
Hardcover, 615 pages
Published May 7th 2009 by Chatto & Windus (first published 2009)
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Grace Tjan
Jan 12, 2010 Grace Tjan rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: A.S. Byatt fans, Arts and Crafts enthusiasts
I looked forward to read this book. I was ready for a sweeping saga about the turbulent years between the closing of the Victorian age and the dawn of the Edwardian, with all its political, artistic and social ferment, and its culmination in the war to end all wars. Who can better chronicle these years than Byatt, with her deep knowledge of the period and her knack for creating affecting, memorable characters like Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte in Possession: A Romance?

Her cast of cha...more
Jen Padgett Bohle
Sep 04, 2009 Jen Padgett Bohle rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: it's an English teacher/Lit Professor's dream
I savored this novel every evening for the 2 months or so that I chipped away at its formidable length. A.S. Byatt has written a whopping, inimitable masterpiece of a heavy handed Victorian England succumbing to the blithe, jaunty Edwardian era which in turn gives way to the disillusionment and terror of trench warfare and World War I. Byatt, so unapologetically erudite, gives us a labyrinthine novel that is both devastating and whimsical. It's full of complexity and contradictions, stories with...more
Kim

Three days after finishing the audiobook version of this novel, I’m still partly in the detailed and intricate world Byatt created. I didn’t want the book to end and I miss the characters.

A saga about the lives of its inter-related characters between 1895 and 1919, the novel concerns itself with the history of England and to a lesser extent Germany during that period. It deals with subjects including Fabian socialism, the Arts and Crafts movement, neo-paganism, the anarchist movement, education...more
Moira Russell
(Including some status updates material in this - )

Not even at the halfway point yet, but I am so baffled and dismayed. I love Byatt (loved Possession like everyone else, but I schooled myself to love the Frederica Potter quartet and other novels too), this book is all about topics I love, and so it totally should be my jam, as the kids say, and....instead it's like the dire moment in Little Women when Meg wails about how the jelly won't jell.

I think the biggest problem is the characters - som...more
Emily
In my reading of this I alternated between deep admiration of Byatt and deep irritation with her. She has put all the force of her prodigious talent into burying the threads of two or three really interesting novels of reasonable length in this over-sized book. In a way, it is like a vast tapestry of the cultural movements in England, and to some extent Germany, from 1895 to 1919 (with fascinating personal stories that can be perceived if you peer up close), but really it's more of a vast tangle...more
Chrissie
In conclusion, this is how books of historical fiction should be written. History is interwoven into the story and made fascinating. There is so very much history in this book, so if that makes you leery, choose another book. As stated below you follow a few families from 1895 through the First World War; the setting is primarily Victorian and Edwardian England and then the war years with excursions to Germany and Belgium and France. I adored the trip to Paris for the 1900 Exposition! Byatt, whe...more
Cecily
BRILLIANT, BUT...
Both brilliant and deeply flawed, this book is an extraordinary achievement that doesn’t always work, but is nevertheless a riveting, educational and inspirational read. It was so beautiful and utterly engrossing, that I loved it despite its faults, and found it filling my thoughts for a week or two after I finished it.

It describes the creative process (principally writing, puppetry and pottery) in gloriously vivid detail, as it relates to some Edwardian families, but at other...more
Zanna
A densely woven account of connected families growing and changing over the late Victorian period up until the end of WWI. Byatt centres her narrative on the lives of the children, following their development and emotional perspectives. The book is openly aestheticising at the expense of pure realism, aiming for the elegant, stylised naturalism of art nouveau that supplies so much of the historical detail. I deeply enjoyed the tale and the telling, particularly Philip's story, which resists high...more
Kaethe
Byatt is curiously prone to report the behavior of her characters, rather than just show them. If she weren't dealing with so much: fairy tales and folklore, the Arts and Crafts movement, the rise of Fabianism and social justice movements of all kinds; if not for all that it'd be a dud. And while I'm listing faults, there is a singular lack of joy. None of these people are ever shown being happy; all of their happy moments occur offstage. Sex, for example, is traumatic, not just, adequate. It ma...more
Felice
"The Children's Book" is a thick, meaty, treasure trove of a novel. Every turn of a page involves the reader in ideas, plot, emotions, knowledge and sparkling writing. In blurb vernacular it's brilliant, a page turner, un-put-down-able, stunning, complex and my favorite--multi-layered.


The book takes place in England between 1895 and 1919. It criss-crosses Europe following the family fortunes of the Wellwoods, the Cains and the Fludds and a host of vibrant subsidiary characters. Olive Wellwood is...more
Nancy Oakes
At 600 + pages, The Children's Book is not easy to encapsulate in a short review. The action takes place between 1895 and ends in 1919. The main character is Olive Wellwood, married to Humphry, and they live a somewhat Bohemian lifestyle and espouse Fabian idealistic beliefs. They raise their children to be children -- to run free in the forest, ride bicycles, holding a totally different view than the "children are meant to be seen, not heard" mentality of the Victorian era. The Wellwoods hold M...more
Chris
I was lucky enough to be in Toronto and so was able to pick this up before its U.S. release (apparently we don't deserve it until the fall).

I thought it would be a second Possession, but it's not, which is good. In some ways, Byatt's style in this book seems closer to the style of her sister, Drabble, a hands off approach which makes it a little harder (or takes longer) to come to terms or grips with characters. There are even some characters we never come to grips with (interesting considering...more
Fiona Robson
This book irritated the life out of me and if I could give it less than one star, I would. It took AGES to finish because I hated every bit of it. I only persevered with it because it was on the "1001 Books you Need to Read Before you Die" list, otherwise, it might have gone into the recycling bin. The writing style was intensely irritating and obviously written by a woman with bizarrely named individualys interracting randomly with way too much descriptive narrative. I would have loved to have...more
Emily  O
Dec 09, 2010 Emily O rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Emily by: I loved Possession
The first thing I have to tell you is that this is not an easy review to write. How does one review an 675 page book in just a few paragraphs? But then how does an author manage to fit the whole world into just 675 pages? I honestly don't know, but if A.S. Byatt can do the latter, I can definitely attempt the former, though I fear I may ramble a bit.

This is usually the part of the review where I'd tell you what The Children's Book is about. the summary GoodReads gives you up at the top of the pa...more
Kate Musselman
Another astounding novel from A.S. Byatt. Complex, beautifully written, and, as always, ferociously intelligent. I love a novel that pulls you entirely into its world, and this is one of those. Byatt is a formidable intellect, and her work is not for the faint of heart; you must be willing to think, to do a certain amount of intellectual work when reading her, but it's always worth it. In the end you have not just another wonderful *story* but you've learned so much. One of the most fascinating...more
Maria
Apparently, I'm getting quite picky over my ratings which seem not to be much more than whim, often enough. I could possibly have rated this higher.

I wanted this superb novel never to end. It deals with so many of my own interests, such as ceramics, music, art, theater, myths and fairytales (art/life/life/art), creativity of so many other kinds, WWI & the trenches, the Fabian Society, the early suffrage movement in England, and we even learn about the history of one of my own personal favori...more
Trish
The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt is a little like opening a long-abandoned toy cupboard and finding childhood thoughts and feelings inside, tattered and worn and well-remembered, rather than the playthings one might have expected. We recognize Byatt as masterful even as she begins, for in the first chapter one feels the power of her rich imagination: a young runaway is found sketching designs from originals deep within the bowels of an art museum during turn-of-the-19th-century London. The sc...more
Talulah Mankiller
Okay, there is really no nice way of saying this: The Children’s Book? Holy shit, you could use that thing as a motherfucking doorstop, and considering how long it takes to get through it? YOU PROBABLY WILL.

The premise: it’s 1880s England, and this children’s author’s son finds a homeless boy who wants to grow up to be a potter, so he gets deposited with an overly-artistic child molesting artiste in the hope that the kid will A.) Nurture his talent or whatever; and B.) Get the artiste to start b...more
Michael
A great portrayal of growing up in England in that dynamic period between the end of the Victorian period to World War 1. The lives of a diverse set of children in three interlinked families are tracked as they either try to stay children or choose to advance toward participation in the arts, sexual explorations, and engaging with a variety of cultural movements. The prose and character development are very engaging. A major character and mother of several of the children is a writer of children...more
Isabelle
I am an A.S. Byatt fan, have been for a very long time... As usual, the book is full of knowledge on a period of English History I love, the late Victorian/Edwardian transition. There is so much history, art, music, literature, politics underlying the story of a pretty wide group of people, related by blood, love, common interests and the pursuit of fulfillment.
The novel has been described as sweeping, and maybe just this once, Byatt has written an overly sweeping book that spins so much time th...more
Cheryl
A.S. Byatt's encyclopedia of knowledge bulges this tale of an early twentieth century children's writer and a mad painter into a corner and pontificates on every aesthetic aspect of the era. Eventually the core of the book is muted by the extremities and lost in the verbage.

Byatt's intellect is astounding with a vocabulary that expands the mind with its scope. In interviews she says she goes to bed with Shakespeare and believes metaphysically only in Wallace Stevens. When so much of the world's...more
Christopher H.
Well, A.S. Byatt has done it yet again. She has written a novel, in The Children's Book, that rivals her earlier Booker award winner, Possession. The Children's Book made the shortlist for the 2009 Booker award, and I certainly can understand why. This is the sweeping saga of a cast of characters from several families, and follows them through the late-Victorian period, through the Edwardian, and through the horrors of the First World War.

In Possession, Byatt leads her reader through the world o...more
Laura
Page 69:
The English formed an impression of conspiratorial secrets, partly because the only words they understood were the names of the recently assassinated French President, Carnot, and the guillotined anarchist, Vaillant, who had thrown a nail-bomb into the Chamber of Deputies.

Page 70:
Prometheus vase.

Page 72:
Marionettes, by contrast, are creatures of the upper air, like elves, like sylphs, who barely touch the ground. They dance in geometric perfection in a world more intense, less hobbledeho...more
Lars Guthrie
I was swept away by 'The Children's Book.'

It's spectacular just as a great piece of entertainment, keeping the reader tuned in and turning pages with suspense and surprises as thick and thrilling as any bestseller aimed at the mass market. It is a deeply insightful study of family. As the title implies, it's an examination of childhood and childhood's schizophrenic identity--the way it is actually lived and the way it is viewed by adults. It is an observation of a time when many of our ideas ch...more
Laura
Anybody with an interest in European history at the turn of the 19th Century would find something worth reading here, but if your definition of a good book is a quick read, this is a catastrophe. There are countless themes running throughout, my favourite - and my reason for reading the book - being the fairy tale theme (incorporated using the character of a female fairy tale writer, Olive Wellwood, and the stories she writes for her children). But for me too much of Byatt's prose reads like a g...more
Michael
Despite Byatt's tendency to tell the reader everything she has discovered in her background research for a novel, The Children's Book is an engaging work filled with interesting characters both involved in and discussing art, politics, class differences, education, raising children, women's rights, and sex. Above all, it is an exposition of the Zeitgeist of late Victorian England, its evolution in the Edwardian years, and its death in the trenches of the Great War. Although the novel has a compe...more
Sue Davis
"The Children’s Book stretches from 1895 to 1919, encompassing England’s late Victorian and Edwardian eras, and is set primarily in the beautiful downs and marshes of County Kent, in southern England, as well as the southeastern coast at Dungeness, with excursions to Paris, Munich, the Italian Alps, and the trenches of the Somme. At the center – more or less – of this richly textured and meticulously researched novel, are three families – the Wellwoods, the Cains, and the Fludds, supported by pr...more
Maria Grazia
Cosa sono le favole, qual'è la loro influenza sullo sviluppo della società? Che cosa muove un artista? A che limiti può arrivare prima di autodistruggersi? Come si crescono i bambini? Quali sono i rapporti corretti tra uomo e donna, principio maschile e principio femminile? Che cosa è l'amore?
Queste sono solo alcune delle domande che sottendono questo complesso, stupendo e stupefacente libro.
Correttamente diviso in età dell'oro, dell'argento, del piombo, perché quasi sempre le favole non finisco...more
capobanda


Nonostante qualche momento meno felice e una piccola incongruenza della trama (pagg. 399/477), non ricordo di aver letto un romanzo così femminile e al tempo stesso così autorevole dai tempi di Middlemarch.
Grazie Byatt, sei tutte noi.

O almeno quelle di noi che non credono alle scorciatoie.
Alison Forde
It took me a while to be enthused by this book - there's a big cast of names to remember and several households with children, all of whom have a part to play - quite literally at many points. AS Byatt reopens our eyes to an era, 1890s up to WW1 which was incredibly creative artistically and intellectually productive, giving birth to new art movements and political ideas, Marxism, socialism, anarchism, women's suffrage, psychoanalysis and sexual freedom, at least for the narrow middle class inte...more
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A.S. Byatt (Antonia Susan Byatt) is internationally known for her novels and short stories. Her novels include the Booker Prize-winning Possession, The Biographer’s Tale and the quartet, The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman, and her highly acclaimed collections of short stories include Sugar and Other Stories, The Matisse Stories, The Djinn in the Nightingale’s E...more
More about A.S. Byatt...
Possession Angels and Insects The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye The Virgin in the Garden Babel Tower

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“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 was not 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 realize that this was not usual, and not reciprocated.” 31 likes
“Dorothy was in that state human beings passed through at the beginning of a love affair, in which they desire to say anything and everything to the beloved, to the alter ego, before they have learned what the real Other can and can't understand, can and can't accept.” 19 likes
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