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The Man Who Loved Children

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  3,953 ratings  ·  461 reviews
Every family lives in an evolving story, told by all its members, inside a landscape of portentous events and characters. Their view of themselves is not shared by people looking from outside in--visitors, and particularly not relatives--for they have to see something pretty humdrum, even if, as in this case, the fecklessness they complain of is extreme.
Paperback, 527 pages
Published July 6th 2001 by Picador USA (first published 1940)
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Paul Bryant
Aug 13, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels, abandoned
Gentle warning note added here because it seems fans of this book can find the below review a little disheartening. So if you're a fan, you might want to skip this review. But, everybody knows that one reader's dogpile is another reader's marzipan souffle with attendant hummingbirds. I myself cannot conceive of anyone reading this haemorrhaging fount of bullying bilious babytalk and not be crying for mercy by page 134. Why would anyone persist? People love this book. Me, I hated it like poison. ...more
lark benobi
May 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Two days after having read The Man Who Loved Children and I'm finally settling down. I don't think I've ever changed a 1 star review to a 5 star review before, but there it is. I've moved from feeling "this is a brilliant book, but I hate it" to feeling: "I may hate this book, but it's brilliant."

More than any read I can remember, this novel made me feel dreadfully insecure about my role as a parent. I've decided that is interesting and amazing rather than something to blame it for. The parents
Feb 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
It's a travesty that this novel isn't one of those twentieth-century classics that everyone's heard of and has either read or knows they must read, like "The Sound and the Fury" or "Ulysses." Sure, people, praise it, but in the same way that Jonathan Franzen praises Alice Munro: with patronizing awe, not peerage. I don't know that Christina Stead ever wrote anything nearly as good, but "The Man Who Loved Children" is epic and brilliant -- strange, gorgeous, devastating, hilarious, flawed, origin ...more
Lars Guthrie
Oct 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Jonathan Franzen—everyone who reads knows who he is, don’t they? Second novel as wildly popular as the first, cover of TIME. Yet no one seems to admit that they like him.

Say what you like about his prickly personality, Franzen always seems willing to subsume his ego in the service of unrecognized writers whom he feels deserve the same attention he gets. I might never have read Paula Fox’s ‘Desperate Characters,’ had not Franzen touted it in a number of interviews when ‘The Corrections’ came out.
Jan 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Zanna by: Angela Carter
After my first day of reading this I concluded that Sam Pollit is the most extravagantly awful character I've ever met. Better acquaintance did nothing to ameliorate my first impression, so how does Christina Stead make it bearable to spend over 500 pages with him? Because Sam's awfulness, his sexism, his white liberal oblivious scientific morality is the groan-inducing, painfully familiar sort, I think. It might be exaggerated (or not – presumably people really did talk enthusiastically about e ...more
Sep 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
If Shakespeare had written this, we'd call it one of his 'difficult' plays. If Donna Tartt had written it we'd be dead from the shock. As exquisitely tailored as The Goldfinch is, this book is not. It's a meandering, repetitive quagmire.

Christina Stead, who was capable of great neatness in prose, took it upon herself in this book to write as people actually live and actually speak. The result makes one realise how important the writer is to the process of making ourselves bearable in print. Wri
Feb 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The greatest novel I've ever read about a certain type of family life. Stead is simultaneously intimate and expansive: it's like we're reading an adaptation of some deep myth or television sitcom. Bonus: Sam's "little language," the familyspeak that swamps Hetty because her own is so much less vigorous. And that's what I love about the book. It's like Christina Stead took all of American culture and spirit, wrapped it up into a single character (Sam Pollit), and then blew it off her finger. Sam ...more
Jun 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to C. by: Jessica Treat
I have to admit that my reading of this book did not do it justice: I've been busy, and tired, and I took a big long break in the middle because I had to finish another book, and it's very long. But: it is so very excellent.

I read somewhere that books about families are often shoved into a little, neglected category of their own - usually called 'domestic fiction' or something similar. I wonder if I'm not guilty of this myself, with my 'family-drama' shelf. I meant it originally for books like O
Feb 16, 2011 rated it did not like it
I absolutely do not get the appeal of this book. How it shows up on some "great reads of the 20th Century" lists, I don't know. It was difficult to read and bizarre...neither in a good way.

The story surrounds a dysfunctional family, but the conflicts never peak, or even simmer with appeal. The creepy father (who drives you crazy with his baby talk), carries on in oblivion while the family collapses. Many reviews indicate that the last two chapters are worth the wait; I disagree.

I regret the time
Theresa Leone Davidson
Jun 28, 2013 rated it did not like it
The man who loved children could have killed all of his children, his half-witted sister, his irritating wife and himself in the first chapter and saved me lot of boredom. I can sort of see why some might like the novel; I did not. I thought it was boring. REALLY boring. You would think a novel about spouses who hate each other, the wife always threatening suicide, various other small homespun dramas thrown in, would be interesting to read. It was not. It was boring. REALLY boring. Perhaps if it ...more
Sep 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Disturbing…An uncomfortable fiction…About a family…A plausible text one would expect to find in a Woman’s Studies course in University…A look at Narcissism and its slow but alarmingly malignant effects within a household…Abuse, in its worst form, invisible…Six hundred pages about dysfunction under one roof…Prose as vexing and errant as Joyce, Faulkner.

Discord, warring, struggles between 'husband and wife'-'father and children'-'mother and children'-siblings between themselves...misogyny, misandr
Dec 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A family is a language to itself, but from dumb beginnings and single-syllables, any child of the house moves inevitably to perfect fluency. Reading Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children is something like being born into the Pollit household yourself: you are mesmerized and disoriented by a dialect, a cadence, a register that mysteriously cohere to become a world.

Stead’s verbal exuberance is astonishing, of a caliber (perhaps) with Melville or Shakespeare. Her characters – Sam and Henny
Aug 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is one of the great, largely unread books of (more or less) our time. Originally published in 1940, it was dismissed by both critics and public. Randall Jarrell gave it a bit of a revival in the 60s (and a perceptive introduction, reproduced in the new edition) and Jonathan Franzen recently gave the novel high praise in the New York Times Book Review, saying that its depiction of the psychological violence of family life "makes Revolutionary Road look like Everybody Loves Raymond." It is a ...more
Jun 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jimmy by: John Waters
I both loved and hated this book, which is fitting since it's about family! So I totally understand anybody who gives this book one star, or even abandons it.

You're thrown into a large family and asked to accept things as normal which you know are not, the way the many children in the family do, simply because it’s the only way things have always been. Meanwhile, nothing happens for the first 150-ish pages. You’re just stuck inside of the worst hell with the most insufferable pieces of shit. A
Kiran Bhat
Aug 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books in Australian literature, and also a book that is criminally under-rated and under-read. The Man Who Loved Children is a portrait of the Pollits family (they are supposed to be in Sydney, but were supposedly shifted to the USA for marketing reasons). Stead's ability to observe into a child's mind are peerless. She brings a Tolstoyan weight to all of the density and weight of growing up in a dysfunctional family, in a manic mix of narrative and asides befitting Moby Dick. Th ...more
Apr 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Christine by: Paul Stern
This is a strange book. My knowledge of Australian based or influence literature is very lacking. The writer, Stead, was born down under but the book takes place in Washington. So really what is it? It reads like magic realism, but it’s not really. In some ways, Stead reminds me of Angela Carter with a slightly less dark and gothic. Then again, it reminds me of a more tragic version of Monty Python.
Then again, another turn, it reminds me life.
The novel tells the story of Louie who lives with h
Debra Hunter
Oct 04, 2010 rated it did not like it
Oh, how I hated this book. I should have known when Jonathan Franzen recommended it so strongly in the NYT book review. There is not a single likeable character, and the book is tedious, unpleasant, and very hard to read. I was the only hardy soul in my book group who didn't put it down in disgust..I actually finished it. This is sad, since I probably could have read several actually good books while I wrestled with this one.
Josh Friedlander
Mar 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
The one prominent critical Goodreads review of this book is by someone who gave up on it around page 130, which makes sense, because at that point I was sorely tempted to give it up myself. Sheer bloody-mindedness compelled me to continue. I'm so glad that I did. This book grows on you slowly, and, in adjusting you to the sharply realised Pollit crew, demands your complete emotional investment.

The titular character is the immensely annoying patriarch, Sam, the prime factor in one's desire to put
A novel I'd heard about ever since I was a kid, but never referenced outside of especially mildewy paperbacks, I read this (I'm guessing like most people on here) because of J. Franzen's essay on it. While each member of the family is quite well sketched out, it's the father figure-- as the title would imply-- who is the focus of the action, repugnant, sentimental fuck that he is, like a minor character from a really bleak Cassavetes film. It's not an easy read, and it took me quite a while to g ...more
Sep 10, 2012 rated it did not like it
This was another hard book to challenge myself, like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I got to page 69 and I just wanted something to happen. I get it, everybody's miserable and they all hate each other.

I gave up. Do I get to count it as "read"? I didn't mind that the characters weren't likeable, but I wanted something to happen, and I realized I was dreading opening it for my morning read on the exercise bike. So I started an easy book about trash pickers in New York (Mongo). Later I flipped thro
Apr 23, 2018 rated it did not like it
Recommended to Steve by: Sally Howes
Shelves: fiction
I know this book is a product of its time, but I found this incredibly difficult to pick up, and very easy to put down. It's a classic, and everyone raves about the style of writing, which just strikes me as rambling, with paragraphs that stretch on for pages, and descriptions of everything ad infinitum. Further, the phonetic way of speaking, and attitudes of the two parents was so incredibly grating. The plot, such as it was, moved very slowly, and occasionally presented some incredibly shockin ...more
Nov 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Squire by: Sally Howes
I found this book difficult to get into because I began with the introduction. I found it almost unreadable and started it twice before I gave up and just dove into the book. (which was a good thing because the into contained major spoilers).

But as soon as I did, I was hooked.

I've never read a book that brought back memories of my own childhood in such a rush as this book did. From the sing-songy lingo of baby-talk and pet names Sam uses to control his children (bringing back the forgotten ling
Jul 22, 2013 rated it did not like it

527 pages of two people hurling verbal, emotional, and physical abuse upon one another and their children. 527 pages of no growth or character development in any of them, no regrets, very little else happening. Not one likable character in the whole book. In fact, I would nominate Sam Pollit, the father, as perhaps the most despicable, evil, vile character in American fiction. Mostly because he really doesn't notice, ever, how misogynistic,racist, mean, cruel, and ignorant he is. And he spe
Robert Wechsler
Jul 09, 2019 marked it as tasted
Shelves: australasian-lit
Stead is a brilliant writer, as I've already found with her short stories. But at this length, a goal to push readers' buttons, to be un-entertaining as can be (while being humorous) with a horrible couple at the novel's center, I was put off from the project. Excellent writing and an interestingly odd sensibility, but not for me, at least right now.
Sep 26, 2015 rated it did not like it
No. No. No. No. This book is a masterpiece like I am worth billions. Fans of Christina Stead's "The Man Who Loved Children" praise it for its realistic depiction of a large family life and her mastery of everyday speech - so what? Both my parents grew up in larger families than the one depicted here and this book does not come close to approaching what that life is like and for readers to proclaim that it gets that type of family right are simply incorrect. The wife is a snob who treats everyone ...more
Apr 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The Man Who Loved Children has long been one of my mother's favourite books, and a well-thumbed, dog-eared copy is one of my most vivid memories from childhood. And yet, somehow, I wasn't ever quite ready to read it until recently. Perhaps now I have finally stopped believing in bogeymen and monsters hiding in cupboards, and could read with some sense of detachment. There is something in Sam Pollit, a man who drags his wife and children through the most extreme of poverty, that hits close to hom ...more
Nov 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
I am still chugging along faithfully. i am now nearly half-way through. Sam Pollit and Henny Pollit are such unlikeable characters but the book illustrates Tolstoy's claim that Happy Family are all alike but unhappy families are unhappy in their own ways. Stead's book drags you through not only and unhappy family but one might say miserable. Sam is a self-obsessed man who sees himself as a great father and lover of all fellow human beings but is so stuck inside himself that he cannot see how he ...more
This Aussie classic has been on my tbr forever! It’s Aussie in the sense that the author is Australian but the book is actually set in Washington & Baltimore areas. Unfortunately, not a book that enchanted my heart… a horrible marriage between 2 people unwilling to work together, to compromise as life partners. A horrific pulling to and fro of the children between the parents. I didn’t like the wife/mother as she is a weakling however at least she seems to be who she is but the husband, all char ...more
Feb 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Amazing gut-wrenching novel about a family consisting of a mother who is desperately unhappy, a father who is a Peter Panish lunatic who can't even make himself a cup of coffee, and a multitude of children who are at their parents mercy. The two engage in epic quarelling bouts, that border on the Shakespearean. The eldest daughter is the most aware and we see her slowly carving out an identity removed from her crazed parents. Written in a poetic, at times elegaic prose, Stead's novel is an incre ...more
Big Al
Jul 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Based on the title, you might imagine this novel to be a tender depiction of a hardworking but happy-go-lucky man who strives to be the best father ever. Well, buckle on up and be prepared to meet maybe the most frustrating father in all of literature (quite the accomplishment!).
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Christina Stead (1902–1983) was an Australian writer regarded as one of the twentieth century’s master novelists. Stead spent most of her writing life in Europe and the United States, and her varied residences acted as the settings for a number of her novels. She is best known for The Man Who Loved Children (1940), which was praised by author Jonathan Franzen as a “crazy, gorgeous family novel” an ...more

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