Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Children's Book by A.S.Byatt

I view holidays as the perfect opportunity to devour a few lengthly books, the ones there is never enough time to get through in everyday life. I gave up reading novels during the day years ago when I realised that I was fobbing my children off in order to get to the end of the chapter. Since then it has been reading in bed but, after a very full day, the eyelids have a different agenda.

I would probably not have read this book by one of the Dames of modern English literature had I not been on holiday. I really enjoyed The Childrens Book by A S Byatt. I say that as a stand alone, qualified statement because when you hear what I also have to say about it you may well be forgiven for thinking that I did not. It may be beautifully written but it is, quite simply, too long. I cannot imagine a publisher allowing anyone but a well respected and accomplished novelist to get away with a book quite as wordy as this*.

Olive, a poor working class young woman, marries a middle class banker and becomes a mother and successful fairytale writer. Indeed the book is a fairy story right from the start, but possibly in the Grimm mould. Dark things lurk beneath the surface.

The scope is vast, with so many strands to the story, so many characters and ideas that it could quite easily have been a trilogy. And better for it at that. It would take me pages to describe this novel, suffice to say that each strand is so interesting in itself it could quite easily become several. Think DH Lawrence, Bloomsbury, Tolkein, Pre-Raphaelites, Nesbit, Edwardian philanthropists, history, politics, domestic life, sensuality, birth and death.

You can read the outline of the plot and characters on any site but you may not read anyone who admits that they left chunks out. Now I am the sort of boring reader who reads every single word. I like words. If they are lyrical, a sentence beautiful or an idea challenging I read it again. So for me to leave out 'bits' is not in character.

The Children's Book is interspersed with fairy stories that Olive wrote for her children (hence the title), among others, and these I found interrupted the flow of the novel and became tedious. They seemed an indulgence that made the book far too long.

I enjoyed the period in which the book was set, the social ideas, problems of being a working mother, the artistic and historical references. Some of the characters stretched credulity but it was all very colourful and interesting. In particular Byatt's references to WW1 and her portrayal of Germany just prior to it were fascinating. This was more than enough. But fairy stories too? Fairy stories I had not banked on.


*A novel by another famous writer has just been released and the same criticism has been aimed at that.

PS So, Google has changed the format for downloading the blog - trouble is I have yet to work out how to Italicise on this new Blog format and how to download a photo! Please, could a fellow blogger could help me out? 

1 comment:

John said...

This is really worth reading, it has too much details in it and yet it is so simple to understand

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