Rated of 5
A magical read
The Children’s Book is the fifth stand-alone novel by British author, Antonia S. Byatt. This novel spans about a quarter of a century, starting in 1895, and tells the story of children’s author, Olive Wellwood, her extended family, friends and acquaintances. Against a backdrop of Victorian, then Edwardian then World War One England, Byatt creates a dynasty that is exposed to Imperialists, Socialists, Fabians, Malthusians, Theosophists, and revolutionaries. Jung, Freud, Oscar Wilde, H.G.Wells, Lalique, women’s suffrage, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Grande Exposition in Paris all play their part. This family is involved, not just in children’s literature, but also pottery, jewellery making, puppeteering, fairy mythology, plays and Art and Craft Summer Camps. Byatt intersperses the narrative with Olive’s fiction and, later, poetry by one of the children. As the children of the various families grow and develop, they come to realise that the adults they trust and rely on are not what they seem, and secrets are revealed that change lives. Adultery is rife in this novel, as are births where parentage is suspect; suicides and war deaths take their toll too. Byatt’s descriptions are highly evocative: pottery, puppets and nature are almost tangible. The Lalique brooch on the cover of this edition presages the sumptuous work within. A magical read.