Book Review: The Children’s Book, by A.S. Byatt

Although this book has been out for a couple of years already, I only dug into it this summer. It had been on my shelf for several months, and as it’s fairly thick I had been putting off starting it until I knew I’d have more time.

The story centres around  the Wellwood family and their circle of friends, starting at the end of the 19th century in the context of Fabianism, the Arts and Crafts movement, and the political and social changes of the age.  Olive Wellwood is a writer of fairy tales, and correspondingly brings up her children in a protected world of fable and innocence. However, this ill-prepares them for coping with adulthood and the deceit brought with it, and ultimately with the First World War.

I was mesmerized! Admittedly the beginning, with all the many eccentric and unusual characters to remember, made for slow reading. All the more the pleasure later on, however, when I found I was limiting myself to just a couple of chapters at a time, savouring the fantastic descriptive narrative and the rich detail. Now and then I felt frustration at a chapter on historical events which seemed to intrude on the story, only to feel relief at being drawn back into the lives of the characters even more deeply than before.

It’s a fascinating read. Read it for the magnificent language and style, and for an insight into this era which the author captures so well.