Wow, this one took me quite awhile to get through but not because it was boring or even hard to read. I read the hardcover copy which came in at a hefty 675 pages. However what slowed me down was the language of the book which was beautifully complex. This is not a book you can read quickly or else you are just cheating yourself.
The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt begins as a story of two young boys who find another young boy in the basement of a museum. The younger of the two boys, Tom, takes him to his mother, Olive Wellwood, who takes an immediate interest in the care of this mystery boy, Philip.
Olive is a children's book author and loves to think of stories for all the children in her life. Each of her children has their own story, written specifically for them, which are never ending. Olive is constantly revising and changing each story as the children grow and evolve. An idea that I loved, but it slowly becomes apparent that she is writing these more for herself than for her children.
Philip is brought to her house and thrown into their world filled with artists and free thinkers. In the first 100+ pages we are introduced to a small community of people who at first seem insignificant but who later are discovered to be integral.
The story spans 30 or so years around 'turn of the century' England, ending at the end of WWI. There is no direct plot, so to speak, the story just follows the members of this community as their lives are shaped and changed by the events of the day. The stories weave into each other, creating a sort of extended family.
In the beginning the Wellwood family, and the community as a whole, seem ideal. The longer the story goes on and the more we unearth about them, the darker and more deceptive things become. Adultery, promiscuity, unknown parentage and deception run rampant and often the children of the story appear to be more grown up than their adult counterparts. The book also touches on political issues of socialism, anarchy and the women's suffrage movement. For a book called The Children's Book is definitely delved into some very adult issues while interspersed with short bits of Olive Wellwood's fantasy stories. The writing flows gorgeously and you become invested in these peoples lives. My only complaint was that I felt it ended rather abruptly. It was as if I'd been invited to watch this group for a set number of years and then suddenly my time was up and I was left to my own imagination of where their lives went from there.
I would wholeheartedly recommend it, just be sure you have time to really soak up the story.
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