Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Children's Book

Hello Flower!

I have finally read "The Children's Book". I think I told you that my friend S sent it to me months ago. I had decided to save it. I wanted to look at it for a while, walk by it now and again and enjoy the delight in having it before I read it. Doesn't it have a gorgeous cover?

"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 the center of this world. She is a writer of fairy tales for children. Olive was a kid from the wrong side of the tracks who after a marriage above her station restyled her herself into a flowing, forward thinking, magazine layout ready Mother of 6 whose Bohemian glamour oozes out seduction and a nurturing spirit. She rules her world without maintaining any intimacy with it. Every moment is literary fodder for Olive. She plumbs the lives of her children for her fairy stories.

Olive and the other adults talk the talk of the Fabians, judge their intellectual superiority by their superficial associations with anarchists and performers and abuse their children in the name of art and free thinking all the while living in servant filled luxury or having the spinster sister schooling the children or waiting for the vicar and charity of others to clothe and feed their families. These Edwardian parents have left their familial responsibilities to others as they prattel on about the changing the world in a ceaseless effort to insure their self importance.

There are leagues of characters here whose lives are constantly intersecting and changing the landscape. As the children mature secret paternity's, horrors and how the world really works are reveled to them. They flee from the jails of their parents into the horror beyond measure of WWI. Although "The Children's Book" is a dark story overall, there is a feeling at the close of the novel when some of the surviving characters are mourning all that has been lost that here now is a substantial and committed group ready to try and remake their futures.

Throughout the book Byatt has wedged in as much historical information as the story will hold. There is an explanation of everything from the founding of the Victoria and Albert Museum to the preenings of the British and German monarchies to how to get a medical degree in 1904. This isn't the usual historical fiction nod to the price of nails in 1675 or a description of the style of dress in 1851 in order to quickly set time and place. The knowledge that Byatt spreads forth from beginning to end in this novel establishes the mindsets of the characters, the social background of their choices and the realities of the plot line. It is all completely integrated into the story and it is as much responsible for the success of the novel as the fictional attributes are.

"The Children's Book" is an outstanding novel of ideas and people. I honestly adored each and every page of it. This is a book that all aspiring writers should read so that they will know what they are aspiring to create. When I finished reading this book I was full.

Sated and Happy

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