Monday, December 14, 2009

The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

If you like historical fiction peopled with a large cast of players, including a great many persons drawn from real life, this is for you. Byatt's central subject is the toll taken by the making of art on artists and their families. The two main artistic creators are Olive Wellwood, a successful writer of children's novels and mother of seven children, and Benedict Fludd, a brilliant potter who has terrorised his wife and three children. There is also Prosper Cain, who is a curator at the museum that will become the Victoria and Albert, and his two motherless children. A German puppeteer and his family... a runaway found hiding in a museum basement who will become Fludd's apprentice... oh, there are so many well-developed characters in this book!

The novel begins in 1895 in London and ends at the close of the First World War. The war part doesn't start until page 578; before that, we watch children grow into adulthood in a milieu of social, political and economic activism. I was thoroughly engrossed in the world of The Children's Book.

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