Summary and book reviews of The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

The Children's Book

A Novel

By A.S. Byatt

The Children's Book

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About this Book

Book Summary

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 runaway named Philip sketching in the basement of the new Victoria and Albert Museum—a talented working-class boy who could be a character out of one of Olive's magical tales—she takes him into the storybook world of her family and friends.

But the joyful bacchanals Olive hosts at her rambling country house—and the separate, private books she writes for each of her seven children—conceal more treachery and darkness than Philip has ever imagined. As these lives—of adults and children alike—unfold, lies are revealed, hearts are broken, and the damaging truth about the Wellwoods slowly emerges. But their personal struggles, their hidden desires, will soon be eclipsed by far greater forces, as the tides turn across Europe and a golden era comes to an end.

Taking us from the cliff-lined shores of England to Paris, Munich, and the trenches of the Somme, The Children's Book is a deeply affecting story of a singular family, played out against the great, rippling tides of the day. It is a masterly literary achievement by one of our most essential writers.

Excerpt
The Children's Book

Two boys stood in the Prince Consort Gallery, and looked down on a third. It was June 19th, 1895. The Prince had died in 1861, and had seen only the beginnings of his ambitious project for a gathering of museums in which the British craftsmen could study the best examples of design. His portrait, modest and medalled, was done in mosaic in the tympanum of a decorative arch at one end of the narrow gallery which ran above the space of the South Court. The South Court was decorated with further mosaics, portraits of painters, sculptors, potters, the "Kensington Valhalla." The third boy was squatting beside one of a series of imposing glass cases displaying gold and silver treasures. Tom, the younger of the two looking down, thought of Snow White in her glass coffin. He thought also, looking up at Albert, that the vessels and spoons and caskets, gleaming in the liquid light under the glass, were like a resurrected kingly burial hoard. (Which, indeed, some of ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Guide
The questions for discussion and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group's discussion of The Children's Book, A. S. Byatt's dazzling, epic story of family, art, class, and betrayal.

About this Book

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

"Easily the best thing A. S. Byatt has written since her Booker-winning masterpiece, Possession . . . A panoramic cavalcade of a novel [and] a work that superlatively displays both enormous reach and tremendous grip." - Peter Kemp, The Sunday Times (London)

From the Booker Prize-winning author of Possession, a spellbinding novel, at once sweeping and intimate, that spans the Victorian era through the World War I years and centers around a famous ...
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Reviews

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When I first plunged into The Children's Book, what struck me was how real the characters were. Olive Wellwood and her circle of friends and family didn't feel like characters, they felt like people. The expansive scope of this novel, and the attention to detail in so many areas - theater, pottery, fairy tales, anarchy, socialism and many others - is impressively handled and rarely does the history interfere with the storytelling. However, I was disappointed that the ending didn't come with a little more of the clarity and understanding I had enjoyed so much in the first part of the book.   (Reviewed by Beverly Melven).

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Media Reviews
Financial Times

The sort of high-concept intellectual fiction we’d expect from, well, A. S. Byatt. Possessio: the next generation .... There is enormous personal sadness in Byatt’s novel, which becomes a collective, historical sadness as the novel moves ineluctably towards 1914.

Evening Standard (UK)

The Children’s Book has a richness of pictorial décor which reminds one of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.

The Guardian (UK)

Brilliant .... Clear-eyed .... A staggeringly charged, slyly comic re-creation of the period between the end of the 19th century and the first world war.

The Independent (UK)

Intricately worked and sumptuously inlaid .... The Children’s Book seethes and pulses with an entangled life, of the mind and the senses alike.

The Washington Post - Keith Donohue

Bristling with life and invention, it is a seductive work by an extraordinarily gifted writer…That Byatt marries this novel of ideas with such compelling characters testifies to her remarkable spinning energy.

The Sunday Times (London)

Easily the best thing A.S. Byatt has written since her Booker-winning masterpiece, Possession .... A panoramic cavalcade of a novel [and] a work that superlatively displays both enormous reach and tremendous grip.

Publishers Weekly

The novel's moments of magic and humanity, malignant as they may be, are too often interrupted by information dumps that show off Byatt's extensive research. Buried somewhere in here is a fine novel.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Pitch perfect, stately, told with breathtakingly matter-of-fact acuteness, this is another winner for Byatt.

Kirkus Reviews

Ambitious, accomplished and intelligent in the author's vintage manner.

The New York Times

While Byatt’s engagement with the period’s over­lapping circles of artists and reformers is serious and deep, so much is stuffed into “The Children’s Book” that it can be hard to see the magic forest for all the historical lumber — let alone the light at the end of the narrative tunnel.

New Statesman

A seductive tale .... Byatt favours sexual enlightenment and social promotion and political advance in all its forms.

The Globe and Mail

Beguiling .... Intelligent, erudite and charming .... This book made me thirsty: Whenever I put it down, it nagged me to pick it up again .... Monumental, pure, beautiful .... Byatt can still breathe magical life into historical fiction, giving her abiding interests new relevance with each work.

The Miami Herald

Rich with period detail and sublime storytelling, A.S. Byatt's supremely fulfilling new novel is fat, busy and wondrous, jammed with a staggering amount of history, with characters and ideas that demand attention and threaten to overwhelm even the most avid reader. Only they don't.

Reader Reviews
CloggieDownunder

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 ...   Read More

Bimey

A Great Long Read
AS Byatt must read and research very thoroughly! This book has British history, the Edwardians ,early Socialism in England ,pottery making, The layout of the Victoria & Albert museum in the 1800s, and a great story about people who become very ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Studio Pottery
One of the main characters in The Children's Book is Phillip Warren, apprentice to eccentric master of ceramics Benedict Fludd. While Fludd is a fictional creation, the kind of pottery being made in his house is in a style that came to be known, in the early 20th century, as Studio Pottery - that is to say pottery made by artists working alone or in small groups, producing unique items or small quantities of similar items.

In the wake of the industrialization of pottery in the previous centuries, those who created unique items from earthen- and stone-ware struggled to have their work accepted as art. Some of the leaders of the Studio Pottery tradition were William Staite Murray, Bernard Leach and Michael...

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