Michael's Reviews > The Children's Book
The Children's Book
by A.S. Byatt
by A.S. Byatt
Oct 19, 09
Read in October, 2009
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 compelling plot and well-developed characters (for the most part), it is really a novel of ideas. There are enough ideas to inspire countless discussions and to encourage further reading of both primary sources and critical assessments of the periods covered. Byatt's prose style is felicitous and effective in creating a Victorian feel for the novel. The war poetry she creates for one character is less effective and believable than the poetry she wrote for characters in Possession (which was brilliant). I think that to write effective war poetry, one had to be there in the mud (Owen and Sassoon) and not just on the fringes (Brooke). The tales Byatt creates for Olive are interesting but show an anachronistic touch of Tolkien that somewhat spoils the effect. Byatt plays throughout the novel with the opposition of surface and depth and suggests that while characters and events may have a superficial appearance of happiness and normality, there are dark and powerful currents moving in the depths that can change everything in an instant. Her genius is not only in the metaphorical explorations of these concepts but in suggesting that we all conspire in living fictional surface lives while knowing that the depths are real and knowing that we all know. I look forward to reading this one again.
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