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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It left me wanting more and less
The writer honoured this year at the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival in Montreal was A.S. Byatt, and she launched her latest novel there. Other people compared this novel to Possession, Byatt's best known novel. I liked this novel, but I don't think it will be the best I read this year. It is a sprawling story spanning the years from 1895 to the end of World War I...
Published on May 30 2009 by Wendy E. Middleton

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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but ultimately disappointing
I had high hopes for the latest Byatt novel and sat down to enjoy this very long novel but I have to say that I found it disappointing.
There are simply far too many characters in the novel and the author picks them up and lays them down without any sustained development which might hold the reader's interest.
I think she bit off far too much and in the end...
Published on Aug. 5 2009 by bookworm


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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but ultimately disappointing, Aug. 5 2009
This review is from: The Children's Book (Hardcover)
I had high hopes for the latest Byatt novel and sat down to enjoy this very long novel but I have to say that I found it disappointing.
There are simply far too many characters in the novel and the author picks them up and lays them down without any sustained development which might hold the reader's interest.
I think she bit off far too much and in the end crammed far too much into the novel - even venturing into WWI very cursorily. It all felt very rushed towards the end.
At the same time Byatt lingers lovingly over minute details of a vase or piece of sculpture which, although interesting initially, over the course of the novel becomes quite irritating.
She seems more comfortable working in miniature and much less comfortable with managing the grand sweep of the narrative structure.
She is such a master of language that I was surprised to discover repetitive use of adjectives in the same sentence. I think a good editor should have corrected some of the more obvious and annoying repetitions.
Although my review seems negative I would still recommend the novel even though it did not fully live up to my expectations. Such a pity though that Byatt crammed all this material into one novel.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It left me wanting more and less, May 30 2009
By 
Wendy E. Middleton "Booklvr" (Barrie, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Children's Book (Hardcover)
The writer honoured this year at the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival in Montreal was A.S. Byatt, and she launched her latest novel there. Other people compared this novel to Possession, Byatt's best known novel. I liked this novel, but I don't think it will be the best I read this year. It is a sprawling story spanning the years from 1895 to the end of World War I. Also there is a large cast of characters, including Olive Wellwood, a children's writer, who writes personal books for each of her seven children. The families of the children's cousins and friends are also part of the story, and as the children grow up, they start to get individual plotlines. However, at times Byatt starts to describe an incident involving one character but the story never seems to be completed because there are so many characters to keep track of. I would have been happy following the large group of fictional characters, but Byatt has done so much research on the Edwardian era, that she feels the need to include all sorts of historical characters as well. At one point I was unsure whether one historical character, who seemed to pop up quite often, was actually one of her inventions.

There are many fascinating stories here, but because I didn't get to follow all of the stories to their end, I had the feeling that I wanted more from a 615-page book that took me three weeks to complete. Byatt is an excellent writer and The Children's Book is a better novel than most that I will read this year, but because it is good, I wanted it to be better.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `An illusion is a complicated thing, and an audience is a complicated creature.', Aug. 25 2010
By 
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Children's Book (Paperback)
This novel is set in late Victorian and Edwardian England (between June 1895 and May 1919) and involves the interconnected stories of three families: the Wellwoods, the Fludds, and the Cains. The novel begins when two boys find a third boy (Philip Warren) hiding in the cellar of the South Kensington Museum. It is Philip's story, including his quest to become a great potter, which anchors the novel.

Art is important to each of the three families. Prosper Cain is Special Keeper of Precious Metals at the South Kensington Museum. Benedict Fludd, Cain's friend, is a potter of volatile temperament who destroys his own work at times. Olive Wellwood writes children's stories, inspired in part by her own large family. There is a tension between the positive and negative impacts of creativity - sometimes obvious (as in Fludd's destruction of his pottery) and sometimes far more subtle (Wellwood's impact on her family). It's tempting to see parallels between the changing roles of family members (especially Benedict Fludd and Olive Wellwood) and the changing shape of the society in which they live as the creativity of the late 19th and early 20th centuries gives way to war.

At times I found the novel complicated: the intertwining of stories and the number of characters made it challenging. I did not find it an easy novel to read but it was ultimately both enriching and rewarding.

`She thought of marching forwards and retreated.'

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Children's Book, Aug. 29 2010
By 
A. Stupart (Burlington, ON) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Children's Book (Paperback)
The Children's Book is a coming-of-age story in every sense of the word. It deals with profound transformations, not only in the lives of individual characters but in the world at large. Set in late Victorian and Edwardian England, a time of enormous social and political upheaval, the story follows the fortunes of the Wellwood family and their circle of bohemian friends and relations. But this is much more than a simple family saga. It is an ambitious, meticulously researched and thoroughly fascinating history of the ideas that shaped what has come to be known as the Edwardian Summer, that idyllic period in Britain immediately prior to World War 1. Byatt, however, believes that this so called golden age was mostly illusory and makes her point by drawing comparisons between the real world and the imaginary worlds created by children's writers. She argues that behavioral models based on traditional fairy tales can perpetuate outdated stereotypes and lead to false expectations in children, setting them up for failure and disappointment. A true golden age, therefore, can only be achieved within the the framework of an enlightened society where progressive new ideas are allowed to flourish and take root. These ideas are presented to the reader in the form of lengthy dissertations and intellectual discussions among the novel's characters, many of whom support the social reforms advocated by the Fabian Society. For readers looking for a fast-paced, plot-driven narrative, this is not a book I'd recommend. If, on the other hand, you love to become totally immersed in the social, cultural and political worlds of a sophisticated, richly drawn historical novel, The Children's Book should be right at the top of your reading list.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars a slog, Jan. 5 2011
This review is from: The Children's Book (Hardcover)
It has all been said, so I'll just agree with those who say there are too many characters going nowhere, too much detail about nothing and not enough story. It reminded me of certain high school english novels that I had to battle my way through in order to get the grade. Happily, I didn't have to disect every chapter of this one! Sad, really. I thought it was going to be great!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tale of a family, April 30 2011
By 
E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Children's Book (Paperback)
A.S. Byatt is not the sort of author you read casually -- her prose is thick with atmosphere and symbolism, her books are full of literate and mythic references, and she does a lot of time hopping. And "The Children's Book" -- loosely based on the life of writer E. Nesbit, apparently -- is Byatt's slowly-unfolding tale of the dangers of art and the secrets held by families. It's no "Possession," but it's definitely worth reading.

Banker Humphry and children's writer Olive Wellwood live in a large house in Kent along with a large brood of children; they are deeply involved in folklore, Fabianism (a sort of gradual socialist movement) and art. Additionally, they are involved with Humphrey's more "normal" brother, a museum curator named Prosper Cain and his eccentric children, and a weird potter named Benedict Fludd who has a runaway boy brought to him.

All seems well on the surface of their colorful little world, but of course the veneer starts cracking like an overbaked pot -- the various families have ugly secrets, both past and present. Even Olive (who writes for children) cannot connect with her own kids, including the child she is pregnant with. The world is changing around them, bringing war, love, social shifts and changes to the various families.

Apparently "The Children's Book" was based on Byatt's musings about how 19th-century/early 20th-century children's authors usually had some sort of horrible tragedy associated with them. And in "The Children's Book," it seems like nothing messes up the kids like their artistic parents, no matter what kind of art they pursue -- and there's a bittersweetness that fills the book, since you're left with the feeling that these scars will cripple them.

The biggest problem with "The Children's Book" is... it's messy. Gloriously, sublimely messy. Sensual prose ("The glaze was silver-gold, with veilings of aquamarine. The light flowed round the surface, like clouds reflected in water...") and vivid imagery are mingled with infodumps and lectures, as well as hefty chunks of information about the social and literary circles of the day. And like golden thread in a tapestry, Byatt weaves in her considerable store of knowledge.

In short: the plot -- such as it is -- sprawls all over the place, and throws out a thousand loose threads. But her velvety prose is almost enough to make up for that. Almost.

As for the characters... well, there are a LOT of them. On the first read, I had a little trouble keeping all the myriad kids straight, and repeatedly forgot who one of the secondary characters was. But on the second try, I found myself fascinated by some of the characters, especially the neglectful figures of Olive and Fludd -- she insulates herself from reality by cocooning herself in her stories, and he is a parent/husband from hell whose mad genius has shattered his family.

"The Children's Book" is one of those grand stories in which fiction, folklore and fact are all united... and then they explode into a messy, luscious piece of work. Not brilliant, but fascinating.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars 600 pages about nothing in particular, May 24 2010
By 
A. Brydge - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Children's Book (Paperback)
This book began with an interesting premis and a promising array of characters but quickly dissolved into a bland and dragging narrative digressing about imaginary pottery and minute scenic details. I really had to force myself to finish this novel, I kept hoping something interesting would happen. There were soo many characters and not enough details to really get to know any of them, not to mention the 20 year timespan which focused on historic events and only barely connected them to the story; this book was a bit too ambitious perhaps. Another oddity about this book was it's continuous sexual undertones, I'm not a prude but it was a very odd mix of dry history and sexual encounters, especially when you don't know or care for the characters. After reading this book I re-read the summary on the book jacket and realized that it described nothing in particualr, which is what this book is ultimately about: nothing.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Excessive., May 20 2014
By 
HildaRose "HildaRose" (Prospect Bay, Nova Scotia Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Children's Book (Paperback)
Attempted but couldn't enter this world, way too many characters. Most of the book is preparing you for something that you give up waiting for.
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The Children's Book
The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt (Paperback - Nov. 3 2009)
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