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The Children's Book

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  18,712 ratings  ·  2,349 reviews
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

A spellbinding novel, at once sweeping and intimate, from the Booker Prize–winning author of Possession, that spans the Victorian era through the World War I years, and centers around a famous children’s book author and the passions, betrayals, and secrets that tear apart the people she loves.

When Olive Wellwood’s oldest son discovers a
Hardcover, 675 pages
Published October 6th 2009 by Knopf (first published April 21st 2009)
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Marilyn Stanley No it is never mentioned but possibly Herbert Methley. His wife seemed to think the child was his.

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Both brilliant and 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 and dreams for a considerable time after I finished it. And it visits me still.

It describes the creative process (principally writing, puppetry and pottery) in gloriously vivid detail, as it relates to some
Grace Tjan
Jan 03, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Jen Padgett Bohle
May 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 08, 2016 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jan-Maat by: Kalliope
Disappointment - beaten up by Byatt's wooden prose, after which she vomited her semi-digested research over me. Apart from that it is a great book.

Admittedly I was disappointed because I had this idea that Byatt was a good and accomplished novelist. Had I believed that this was the author's first novel I might have been excited by its promise and ambition, fooling myself that future books with judicious rewriting and hard pruning would be good literature.

Ahhhggrh. Reading this book I was struc
TBV (on semi-hiatus)
Some of my favourite things…
Presenting a wide panorama of history, a large canvas of art in its different forms, and a work that is very good literature, The Children’s Book ticks several boxes for me. This novel itself is intensely imaginative, and many of the characters in turn are creative and imaginative. There are stories within stories, layers within layers, plots and subplots. I couldn’t help but visualise author A.S. Byatt as a puppeteer, expertly manipulating her creations in this magic
Apr 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: lovers of history and historical fiction, the arts
Reading The Children's Book for the second time has solidified its place as one of my all-time favorite books. Historical fiction when written well is one of my favorite genres. Here Byatt has used her characters, settings and action to bring history--in all its parts--to life, supplementing with occasional narratives on history and the arts. We readers encounter the family, the arts in many forms, philosophy and religion, politics, education, women's rights and gender politics, everything it se ...more

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
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
May 06, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
May 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Like an Intricate, Jeweled Faberge Egg

Byatt's Magnum Opus

This novel is A.S. Byatt's masterpiece. I think it's a much better book than her earlier and better known work, Possession.

It's an ambitious work. It's also intricate, colorful, interconnected, and full of surprises, much like a Faberge egg (which, incidentally were produced during the same time frame as the book).

The novel traces the childhoods and coming of age of a group of British young people before (late Victorian), during, and after
Mar 23, 2017 rated it did not like it
Ok, this is not for me.

70 odd pages and no hint of a plot, just a lot of scene setting and Victorian historical information.

I get that this is likely to be character or society study rather than a plot-driven novel, which is fair enough, but I'm not digging the writing. There is a lot of info-dumping, telling rather than showing, and circular writing:

And again, a pre-teen / early teen questioning their "capability to love"?
Not for me.
Aug 26, 2017 rated it liked it
The Children's Book gives the reader a big and sprawling story. It centers around Humphrey and Olive Wellwood, living in a big house called Todefright (love that name), and all their kids, friends, neighbors and other people that impact their life. But most of all their kids. There's quite a lot of historical background to all of this, and the main focus is on art communities and women's rights. The book spans from around 1885 to the end of the First World War.

We get to meet a great variety of

Reading this novel made me think I was diving. Sinking deeper and deeper into its boundless pages, I would sometimes need to resurface, expand my lungs and get fresh air.

For this is a very ambitious novel (view spoiler)and we could not expect any less from A.S. Byatt. I now conceive of it as a compression of about three books.

There is an exhaustive account of the social and cultural settings in Western Europe at the turn of the 19C up to the conclusion of WW1. The
Mar 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Really 4.75 stars, but that’s only because it’s by the author of Possession. Without that perfect Possession, I’m sure I would feel this is a full-on 5.


It’s a novel rich with rewards for Byatt fans, including all that Byatt loves and that for which we love her. Immediately upon starting the second chapter, I was plunged into her The Virgin in the Garden. It was partly the prose, but also the characterization of the children of another brilliant, eccentric family that lives in the 'country'. As
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
Fiona Robson
Nov 22, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-books
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
Proustitute (on hiatus)
The Children’s Book is an epic door-stopper of a novel, spanning 1895 through the First World War. Byatt centers on the Wellwood family’s two branches—one capitalist, one Bohemian—and their intertwining and overlapping histories over 20-odd years. Focusing particularly on artistic, aesthetic, social, cultural, and political movements brewing during this pivotal time period, Byatt follows about twelve young children (and numerous tangential characters, both British and German) as their respective ...more
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
Aug 05, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Talulah Mankiller
Apr 22, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Nov 22, 2009 rated it it was ok
Unlike her earlier novel, Possession, which I loved, I found myself in an adversarial position with the author as I read. There is just too much. Of everything. Too many characters, too much historical exposition, too much digression to indulge the author's habit of inserting story-stopping pieces of one character's writing inside the actual story. This historical fiction novel covers the years 1895 to 1919 in Europe and Germany. At first you follow the story of a young boy as he is rescued from ...more
Emily  O
Sep 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
"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
Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
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
Feb 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
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 ...more
Kaethe Douglas
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
I loved Possession and foolishly expected another Possession. This is not that. I'm in awe of the sheer scope and ambition of this book that covers a particular time in British history before the First World War. Fabianism, the Arts and Crafts movement, socialism, women's suffrage, the vibrance of chilren's literature at this point in time (Olive Wellwood is somewhat based on E. Nesbit)—all of this was fascinating. But there was too much going on and so much of the narrative had to be divided up ...more
T.D. Whittle
Dec 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I have come to realise lately that somewhat flawed masterpieces are my favourite works of art. This may be due to my inherent distrust of perfection, yet it also reminds me of the Herrick poem in which 'a sweet disorder in the dress' delights the lover who looks upon it, and enraptures his senses more than perfection ever could. Recently, Tender Is The Night captivated me in just this way: Its imperfections somehow amplified its overall wondrous impact. The Children's Book, it's true, has some o ...more
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
Jan 19, 2010 rated it liked it
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
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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 winner 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 Ey ...more

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