A spellbinding novel, at once sweeping and intimate, from the Booker Prizewinning 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 Museuma talented working-class boy who could be a character out of one of Olive's magical talesshe takes him into the storybook world of her family and friends.
But the joyful bacchanals Olive hosts at her rambling country houseand the separate, private books she writes for each of her seven childrenconceal more treachery and darkness than Philip has ever imagined. As these livesof adults and children alikeunfold, 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Starred Review. Pitch perfect, stately, told with breathtakingly matter-of-fact acuteness, this is another winner for Byatt.
Ambitious, accomplished and intelligent in the author's vintage manner.
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.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by 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
Rated of 5
by 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
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 Cardew. Were Phillip Warren a real person, he would have been making his pots at the same time as Murray, the earliest of the studio potters.
Few works of literature are as universally beloved as Alices Adventures in Wonderland. Now, in this historical novel, we meet the young girl whose bright spirit sent her on an unforgettable trip down the rabbit hole and the grown woman whose story is no less enthralling.
Brilliant and utterly enthralling in its depiction of childhood, love and war, England and class. At its center this is a profoundand profoundly movingexploration of shame, forgiveness and the difficulty of absolution.
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