Customer Reviews for

The Children's Book

Average Rating 3.5
( 76 )
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5 Star

(28)

4 Star

(19)

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(15)

2 Star

(9)

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(5)

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

Sophisticated Reading--Not Child's PLay

The Children's Book is a collection of fantasies--not just Olive Wellwood's evolving children's stories and Stern's marionette shows, but the fantasies lived out by the adults in the decades leading up to the first World War. The exposé of these fantasies is at the...
The Children's Book is a collection of fantasies--not just Olive Wellwood's evolving children's stories and Stern's marionette shows, but the fantasies lived out by the adults in the decades leading up to the first World War. The exposé of these fantasies is at the heart of the novel. Olive and Humphrey believe in the fantasy of free love: that it causes no jealousy between spouses, nor that it damages any of the seven children in their household, born from various liaisons yet raised to believe they are true siblings. Love, sad to say, does not conquer all, and some in the novel who give it too freely pay a heavy price. Another fantasy: that freedom allows children to grow up happy and full of potential; but freedom taken too far borders upon neglect, and not all children are by nature independent. Another set of fantasies: that art can change the course of world events, and that genius is always to be indulged for its own sake. The list goes on and on. Like the characters' fantasy lives, Olive Wellwood's stories are delightfully magical on the surface yet dark and dangerous underneath.

The novel's style and structure are inseparable, both building on the possibilities and threats in the space between fantasy and reality, between the Victorian age and the new post-world war period. Some readers have complained about excessive details in the first part of the novel; others complain about the brevity of the last. I feel this is intentional on Byatt's part, a verbal realization of the changing cultural and political milieu. The late Victorian period was still addicted to rigid social morés and manners, embellishment of one's person and one's home, etc.--and, as such, it gave birth to a myriad of reactionary movements, most of them equally pompous in their moral (or amoral) certitude. On the other hand, the rapid and extensive devastation of the war, a political killing machine gone amuck, left people back home stunned and empty--as reflected in Byatt's quickfire, almost callous list of the young men, fantasy-world Fludds and Cains and Wellwoods, cut down by a reality beyond their once-imagined control. Like Stern's marionettes, the novel's human characters live in a fantasy world, unaware of the strings that manipulate their actions.

Yes, the book is massive and complex, and it takes some concentration to keep track of the various characters and their relations to one another. It's the kind of book that, when you finish it, you need to think about it for awhile, and then you know that you will need to read it again to fully appreciate its genius.

posted by MollFrith on December 19, 2009

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Most Helpful Critical Review

5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

A disappointed reader

I was extremely disappointed with this book. It evoked a sense of frustration and confusion. The author introduces a few characters and I honestly don't think there was a main character. For a minute I thought Olive might be the heroine of the story but her story went n...
I was extremely disappointed with this book. It evoked a sense of frustration and confusion. The author introduces a few characters and I honestly don't think there was a main character. For a minute I thought Olive might be the heroine of the story but her story went nowhere. I don't mind the fact that there were so many characters, but I do mind that each character wasn't developed. I didn't fall in love or care deeply about any of them, since the author didn't talk in depth about any of them. She introduced them to me, gave me a glance into their lives, but I didn't feel any connection with any of them, well except for one character who is Tom but he was short lived. The ending was sad, yes, I didn't feel sad or hurt or sympathy or any feeling of loss, I didn't know any of the characters to care so much about what happened to any of them , and I was very very happy that the book was over and done with.

posted by DiniOv on October 28, 2009

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  • Posted October 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A disappointed reader

    I was extremely disappointed with this book. It evoked a sense of frustration and confusion. The author introduces a few characters and I honestly don't think there was a main character. For a minute I thought Olive might be the heroine of the story but her story went nowhere. I don't mind the fact that there were so many characters, but I do mind that each character wasn't developed. I didn't fall in love or care deeply about any of them, since the author didn't talk in depth about any of them. She introduced them to me, gave me a glance into their lives, but I didn't feel any connection with any of them, well except for one character who is Tom but he was short lived. The ending was sad, yes, I didn't feel sad or hurt or sympathy or any feeling of loss, I didn't know any of the characters to care so much about what happened to any of them , and I was very very happy that the book was over and done with.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Sophisticated Reading--Not Child's PLay

    The Children's Book is a collection of fantasies--not just Olive Wellwood's evolving children's stories and Stern's marionette shows, but the fantasies lived out by the adults in the decades leading up to the first World War. The exposé of these fantasies is at the heart of the novel. Olive and Humphrey believe in the fantasy of free love: that it causes no jealousy between spouses, nor that it damages any of the seven children in their household, born from various liaisons yet raised to believe they are true siblings. Love, sad to say, does not conquer all, and some in the novel who give it too freely pay a heavy price. Another fantasy: that freedom allows children to grow up happy and full of potential; but freedom taken too far borders upon neglect, and not all children are by nature independent. Another set of fantasies: that art can change the course of world events, and that genius is always to be indulged for its own sake. The list goes on and on. Like the characters' fantasy lives, Olive Wellwood's stories are delightfully magical on the surface yet dark and dangerous underneath.

    The novel's style and structure are inseparable, both building on the possibilities and threats in the space between fantasy and reality, between the Victorian age and the new post-world war period. Some readers have complained about excessive details in the first part of the novel; others complain about the brevity of the last. I feel this is intentional on Byatt's part, a verbal realization of the changing cultural and political milieu. The late Victorian period was still addicted to rigid social morés and manners, embellishment of one's person and one's home, etc.--and, as such, it gave birth to a myriad of reactionary movements, most of them equally pompous in their moral (or amoral) certitude. On the other hand, the rapid and extensive devastation of the war, a political killing machine gone amuck, left people back home stunned and empty--as reflected in Byatt's quickfire, almost callous list of the young men, fantasy-world Fludds and Cains and Wellwoods, cut down by a reality beyond their once-imagined control. Like Stern's marionettes, the novel's human characters live in a fantasy world, unaware of the strings that manipulate their actions.

    Yes, the book is massive and complex, and it takes some concentration to keep track of the various characters and their relations to one another. It's the kind of book that, when you finish it, you need to think about it for awhile, and then you know that you will need to read it again to fully appreciate its genius.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Another beautiful novel from Byatt

    I wanted to read Byatt's new novel about the childhood of the WWI generation, looking forward to her beautiful description and use of multiple voices. "The Children's Book" did not disappoint. Beautiful prose, complete with fairy tales and poems "written" by her characters. A sad novel, too, because there is a sense of the inevitable in the characters but very well-worth the time spent reading.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    The Eerie Coterie's Fall 2009 "Dark Pages" Selection

    The Eerie Coterie's first nominated "Dark Pages" selection is one of the best books of 2009. As our fall Conversation Group choice you are in for one breathtaking ride. The Children's Book is a Victorian novel encompassed by the Wellwoods and the Fludds, two families of unending mystery. Olive Wellwood is a children's book writer and creates a different story for each of her own children. A.S. Byatt is one of those rare writers who can tackle themes buffered by fairy tales, supernatural elements, mythology and magic and give you a tale so beautifully entwined with real life moments that it always comes out believable. The Eerie Coterie is proud to have THE CHILDREN'S BOOK by A.S. Byatt be our Fall 2009 featured title. The book jacket alone is worth it for you to pick up.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 28, 2013

    The Children¿s Book is the fifth stand-alone novel my British au

    The Children’s Book is the fifth stand-alone novel my 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 acquaintances. Against a backdrop of Victorian, then Edwardian then World War One England, Byatt creates a dynasty that is exposed to Imperialists, Socialists, Fabians, Malthusians, Theosophists, and revolutionaries. Jung, Freud, Oscar Wilde, H.G.Wells, Lalique, women’s suffrage, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Grande Exposition in Paris all play their part. This family is involved, not just in children’s literature, but also pottery, jewellery making, puppeteering, fairy mythology, plays and Art and Craft Summer Camps. Byatt intersperses the narrative with Olive’s fiction and, later, poetry by one of the children. As the children of the various families grow and develop, they come to realise that the adults they trust and rely on are not what they seem, and secrets are revealed that change lives. Adultery is rife in this novel, as are births where parentage is suspect; suicides and war deaths take their toll too. Byatt’s descriptions are highly evocative: pottery, puppets and nature are almost tangible. The Lalique brooch on the cover of this edition presages the sumptuous work within. A magical read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 13, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    so far, so good

    I am about halfway through the book and am thoroughly enjoying the experience. The language is beautiful and the characters engaging. It's one of those books that you can read slowly over time; not a page-turner, but a book that you look forward to going back to every time you put it down for awhile. At first, I had trouble keeping all the characters straight and had to go back into the book to remind myself who everyone was, but now there is more of a focus on three of four characters so it's a bit easier to manage. So far, so good. I recommend the book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 9, 2010

    The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt - a review

    The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt is well written, delightful, informative and fun. At times, A.S. Byatt is a bit pedantic in her need to unfurl the history of Great Britain at the turn of the 19th to 20th Centuries. However, she successfully weaves all the elements of the times into her tale, including: art, politics, theater, music, literature, philosophy, economics and sociology. The book is the story of the Wellwood family and their friends. Olivia Wellwood writes children's tales using her own children for inspiration, as well as encorporating the tales that they invent with her, in their individual books, into her published books and towards the end of the book - her play. The reader watches the children grow as the times change. Lives of light, joy, sensuality, frivolity, fecklessness, darken as the times change and World War 1 approaches, and, in the cases of the individual children, as the realities of adulthood replace the magical childhood that their mother had created for them. The Arts and Crafts movement delightfully whirls around the family, their friends and acquaintances. There are emotional and political dramas; actions have repercussions at times many years later and even at least one suggested repercussion that will occur beyond the scope of the book. There is a lot going on and it is all artfully done, it is never overwhelming. This is a thoroughly enjoyable read!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 30, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    One of Year's Best--to Me!

    A web of relationships among several families involved in the arts, science and social movements during England's and Germany's Belle Époche. Children's stories, the Victoria and Albert Museum, craft pottery, puppet theater-Byatt covers an exhaustive range of topics and historical figures from that time. But, to me, she does it flawlessly as always. Her command of subject and her writing is a treasure.

    Those who have trouble with lots of characters in novels would do well to make a list. The children, particularly, all come and go through the years. It's not just one person's story, but Phillip, the apprentice potter 'rescued' from the museum, and Dorothy, one family's determined-to-be-different daughter, give hope that class and circumstance will somehow give way to something more that transcends this time and this place. Highly recommended. One of the best books I've read this year.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Disappointing, slow moving. Not the expected book at all

    "The Childrens Book" was set up to make a point, I'm sure, or even a series of points. It was very slow moving, took forever for me to get interested in it. Some of the characters were engaging and I enjoyed the theme of women's rights but that was a minor theme. It was mixed up with a lot of the amount of damage done to the women characters. The somewhat sympathetic theme of homosexuality was not kept true, either. By the end the gay characters were turning straight as if they had just been misunderstood!

    I think that the ending was the biggest disappointment. It was too rushed as if the author was told to just wrap up the loose ends quickly because that was the way it came off. The problem was that there were few characters that I cared about by the time the end came.

    I was hugely disappointed with the entire book. I had very high hopes for it and the whole thing fizzled.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    The Children's Book!

    This is a great book in its scope and originality. At least, I've never read anything like it before and it was the first novel by Byatt that I've read. I loved the characters and the various historical figures that come in and out of the novel. I love how Byatt evokes a strong sense of place no matter if we are in England, Germany or France. Her knowledge of England at the turn of the 19th century is astounding. If you like historical fiction than this is for you! Also if you want to learn a few things or simply love art, this is for you! My only criticism of this book is that at times it becomes tedious as Byatt tends to stray away from the action of the story and jumps into page long explanations of background information that tends to bore. I think it could've been a bit shorter and I think the ending wraps up to suddenly and comes off as slightly contrived. I would recommend this to someone who is looking for an intellectual and thought provoking book, not someone looking for a quick read. I read fast and it took me two months while reading other books to get through this dense novel!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2010

    Even better than Possession!

    This is an extraordinary novel! It is at once a deep and rich narrative of an all too human family in all its darkness and at the same time a breathtakingly scholarly depiction of a period of human history - its politics, its sociology, its arts, its system of education, and especially the struggle of women. One comes away with the same kind of feeling that one might get from hearing a master professor give his [her!] best lecture of the year. I loved Possession, but I found this to be an even richer experience. I will be giving this book to my children and to my friends as one of the best novels I have read in some time! READ THIS BOOK!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 6, 2012

    Beautifully written.

    Beautifully written.

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  • Posted September 23, 2012

    For an author with such glowing remarks about her books, I found

    For an author with such glowing remarks about her books, I found this a tedious book to read and honestly, could not finish. It was as though Ms. Byatt was trying to impress with her choice of words, descriptions of dress, furniture and locale, but all it did was confuse and wear me out.

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  • Posted May 24, 2012

    An exceptional, involving, complex novel.

    An exceptional, involving, complex novel.

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  • Posted January 22, 2012

    This book takes you on a great journey!

    This book took me a very long time to read because it is not very gripping. At the same time everytime I went to read The Children's Book I was excited to see what was coming next. Throughout the entire book the reader gets to watch a great variety of people go through life and learn many different lessons and I personally really enjoyed it. I am happy to read any book that can take the reader through the whole spectrum of emotions from happiness to anger and everything in between, and this book definitely does just that. The book starts off a bit slow but once the reader gets to know the characters and connect with some the story becomes really a great read. I definitely recommend The Children's Book to any reader.

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  • Posted November 2, 2011

    This book takes you on a great journey!

    This book took me a very long time to read because it is not very gripping. At the same time everytime I went to read The Children's Book I was excited to see what was coming next. Throughout the entire book the reader gets to watch a great variety of people go through life and learn many different lessons and I personally really enjoyed it. I am happy to read any book that can take the reader through the whole spectrum of emotions from happiness to anger and everything in between, and this book definitely does just that. The book starts off a bit slow but once the reader gets to know the characters and connect with some the story becomes really a great read. I definitely recommend The Children's Book to any reader.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2011

    A tightly woven tapestry

    AS Byatt presents her readers with a historical panorama full of rich characters. Her story moves through the lives of a Bohemian family and their friends at a pace that is perhaps slow, but it allow breathing room for the characters and has you invest in the lives of the children we watch grow up through the tale.
    One of Byatt's favorite themes, the idea of fairy stories and passing along inventions and tales comes through very strong. It feels much stronger character and narrative-wise than her novel Possession, which lacked the blood and passion that this novel has more of.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2011

    Highly recommend - A wonderful story

    I loved this book and another of her books, not available electronically.

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  • Posted June 10, 2011

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    Really Wanted to Love This Book

    OK. I am mid-way through the book. I so wanted to love this book. The premise is engaging and the embedded fairy tales are enjoyable. However, so far there just does not seem like there is a plot, but a series of incidents strung together and loosely bound. I feel frustrated. It took a while to understand who all these characters were, and I am hoping for more intertwining, but so far, the novel feels more like a series of vignettes. I may have to put it down and pick up another one.

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  • Posted September 6, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Characters so finely drawn you won't soon forget them

    A review of this spell-binding novel demands the superlatives we remember from 1950s movies-"a story you'll never forget," "characters so real they'll take up permanent residence in your heart and mind," "history masterfully interpreted." Yes, the book is that good. Erudite and extraordinary, it's better written and carries more layers and dimensions than we find in the books about the boy wizards. Blurbs on the first pages call The Children's Book a literary feast and a tragic fairy tale. They're right. Byatt, who is the author of Possession, a novel of the secret lives of Victorian poets and modern literary scholars that won the Booker Prize, turns her attention here to the late Victorian era. This was a golden age in England, when idealistic but moneyed and often naïve people turned away from the business of banking and empire to live pastoral, medievalesque lives in the Garden of England, which is roughly the Kentish lands south of the Thames. It's the age of Fabians, anarchists, and other idealists, the romanticized society satirized by Gilbert and Sullivan in Patience, with its Wildean poets and lovesick maidens. Following the golden age comes the silver age, the Edwardian era whose king was more interested in his mistresses than anything else and whose authors gave us faux children's books like Wind in the Willows and Puck of Pook's Hill, which transported adults to idealized visions of a make-believe childhood. After Edward's death came the age of lead-World War I, in which almost an entire generation of Englishmen was slaughtered. Byatt brings history and historical figures like Rupert Brooke into the lives of her fictitious but realistic families, all of which have many children. We watch these children grow up through the ages of gold, silver, and lead. Some of them survive. The novel is filled with the details of family life, but there are secrets in these families. Some of the children learn that their mothers aren't the women they've always believed they were, their fathers are not who they think, their siblings and friends and cousins have secrets great and small. When one girl learns that her true father, for example, is a famous German puppeteer, she goes to visit him, and we see the artistic ferment of Munich before the war. Another girl wants to become a doctor in an age when girls were taught to embroider and play the piano but not to know anything about the human body. The wife and daughters of a famous artist live passive, zombie-like lives; we learn that the artist's house has a hidden room filled with pornographic bowls. Byatt's writing is satirical and elegiac at the same time, details are sharp, and the lives of the children of this 879-page novel are intertwined like the art deco stems and leaves of fantastical plants that bloom in surprising places and ways. While the only thing we might wish for in this novel is a list of characters that shows who's related to whom (and how), this is a book you'll pick up in every spare minute of your day, the book you'll sit and read for another five minutes that stretch into hours. Quill says: The Children's Book is about the ordinary, magical lives of people so finely drawn we won't soon forget them.

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