Thursday, 13 May 2010

The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

GENRE: historical fiction/mystery

Famous author Olive Wellwood writes a special private book, bound in different colours, for each of her children- In their rambling house near Romney Marsh they play in a story-book world – but their lives, and those of their rich cousins and their friends, the son and daughter of a curator at the new Victoria and Albert museum, are already inscribed with mystery. Each family carries its own secrets. They grow up in the golden summers of Edwardian times, but as the sons rebel against their parents and the girls dream of independent futures, they are unaware that in the darkness ahead they will be betrayed unintentionally by the adults who love them.


I am confused by this novel. A part of me really likes it, and a part of me is not so sure. The best way to express my reaction to this novel is that I do like it, as it is a very cleverly written piece of fiction, but I am still confused.

The novel is basically about the relationships that exist between the families that appear in the book – the Wellwoods, the Cains, the Warrens, including certain individuals – and about the relationships that exist inside the families. The novel certainly starts with Olive Wellwood and her family, and some of their relatives and close (or not so close) friends, but the truth is that the novel is not really (just) about the Wellwoods, but basically about every character that appears in it. There are several characters in this novel, and all have their stories, backgrounds and hold some importance to the novel.

The beginning of the book (the first 200 pages, to be honest) is a bit slow, but nevertheless interesting. The author goes into many details about the Wellwoods, and some of their friends, and focuses a lot on the process of writing and the process of creating good, magical puppet shows. The historical details are amazing, as is the author’s characterization of her characters. Everyone is an obvious individual. After the first 200 pages, the book starts to pick up, there are plot twists, complications, and old secrets begin to surge to the surface. The young begin to fall in love and it’s not always the right or even the proper kind of love. When they learn their parents’ secret, the children’s world falls apart. This secret really affects some of the children; it changes their goals and ideas, even, that they had for the future. This book shows how bad decisions and bad behaviour of parents can negatively affect their children and really confuse them. I’m not saying which family, as I don’t want to spoil the story too much, but I would really slap senseless the irresponsible parents of this family.

The book is more or less a homage to the end of the Victorian era and to the golden times of the Edwardian period. I really needed some time to get used to the novel and to the pacing of the story, but once I got to the core of the book, I had an enjoyable experience. The ending, however, is a bit rushed and the story doesn’t really come to any sort of decent conclusion. Here, I have to give Byatt a minus point.

One of the best parts of the novel, to me, are definitely Olive’s stories for children. They are amazingly written and really have all the characteristics of a good fairy-tale.

The book could be a bit shorter, considering its contents, but generally speaking, I liked it, although, as I said, I am confused by the fact that I like it.

: / (3.5 stars)

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