Posted by: Ele Quigan | December 30, 2010

‘The Children’s Book’ A.S Byatt

I’ve ploughed through what feels like a million books over the last few weeks, and need to get all my December reading up by tomorrow night – so thought I should work in reverse order, with the last one I finished first…

2am this morning I put it down. Obviously a book that had me hooked… I loved the first half. It’s rich, more than a little bit intriguing. Based in Edwardian times and finishing a the end of the first world war, the book traces several families through seemingly tentative links across about 2-3 decades.

Including wonderful spectacles such as the great Paris exhibition, midsummer parties for bohemian families, and bavarian puppet events, the storytelling in this novel is phenomenal.

But something just didn’t sit right throughout the whole book.

So much is left unsaid – there are affairs and families that are created/blended without a second word or sentences to explain the what and the why. From the children we realise from halfway through are the spinster sisters, however with no further plot to outline why it starts to detract from the story and make the happy family premise feel distinctly unrealistic.

The single son the story or at least childrens book often seems to feel it’s about gradually seeps off to the side, to the point that you’re glad when he’s no longer a central part of the story. And the matriarch, whom so coloured, lively, and interesting from the start of the book, loses her sheen, and becomes a sullen character that you no longer like, and find yourself wanting to skip past her role in the story.

It’s from a time where men would put down the thought of a woman in higher education without a second thought, however for such a bohemian family (or families) it doesn’t make sense for their thoughts an opinions to be at one minute so liberal and at others so not.

Oscar Wilde is mentioned a few times, but as what, someone interesting? someone who shouldn’t have been persecuted? No – as someone with disgusting behaviour who smells… This may have been the general view at the time but doesn’t sit will with the rest of the novel…

The end was also strange, suddenly the last third of the book feels like there was a sudden need to kill everyone off to tie together the loose ends. The fairy stories held within are never finished (I guess some stories never are) but it made for a frustrating finish. I wanted to see the characters do and even feel more, however it was not meant to be.

I’ll probably read it again, as the first half was incredible, but I was absolutely left wanting as I got to the last page…

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