The Children's Book

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The Children's Book

by A.s. Byatt

Knopf Canada | November 3, 2009 | Trade Paperback

The Children's Book is rated 4 out of 5 by 3.
From the renowned author of Possession, The Children’s Book is the absorbing story of the close of what has been called the Edwardian summer: the deceptively languid, blissful period that ended with the cataclysmic destruction of World War I. In this compelling novel, A.S. Byatt summons up a whole era, revealing that beneath its golden surface lay tensions that would explode into war, revolution and unbelievable change — for the generation that came of age before 1914 and, most of all, for their children.

The novel centres around Olive Wellwood, a fairy tale writer, and her circle, which includes the brilliant, erratic craftsman Benedict Fludd and his apprentice Phillip Warren, a runaway from the poverty of the Potteries; Prosper Cain, the soldier who directs what will become the Victoria and Albert Museum; Olive’s brother-in-law Basil Wellwood, an officer of the Bank of England; and many others from every layer of society. A.S. Byatt traces their lives in intimate detail and moves between generations, following the children who must choose whether to follow the roles expected of them or stand up to their parents’ “porcelain socialism.”

Olive’s daughter Dorothy wishes to become a doctor, while her other daughter, Hedda, wants to fight for votes for women. Her son Tom, sent to an upper-class school, wants nothing more than to spend time in the woods, tracking birds and foxes. Her nephew Charles becomes embroiled with German-influenced revolutionaries. Their portraits connect the political issues at the heart of nascent feminism and socialism with grave personal dilemmas, interlacing until The Children’s Book becomes a perfect depiction of an entire world.

Olive is a fairy tale writer in the era of Peter Pan and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In the Willows, not long after Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. At a time when children in England suffered deprivation by the millions, the concept of childhood was being refined and elaborated in ways that still influence us today. For each of her children, Olive writes a special, private book, bound in a different colour and placed on a shelf; when these same children are ferried off into the unremitting destruction of the Great War, the reader is left to wonder who the real children in this novel are.

The Children’s Book is an astonishing novel. It is an historical feat that brings to life an era that helped shape our own as well as a gripping, personal novel about parents and children, life’s most painful struggles and its richest pleasures. No other writer could have imagined it or created it.


From the Hardcover edition.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 624 pages, 9.2 × 6.1 × 1.31 in

Published: November 3, 2009

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0307398080

ISBN - 13: 9780307398086

Found in: Fiction and Literature

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Reviews

Rated 3 out of 5 by from Really well written Very well written. Its character-driven (as opposed to plot-driven, which is more up my alley), and the ending is perfect.
Date published: 2012-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from AMAZING BRILLIANT This is great literature with a soap opera plot line that keeps you moving along. Throughout the reading, I could not stop marveling at the depth of knowledge that A.S. Byatt has brought to this story - which included the historical, social, cultural, artistic and political life at the turn of the century. It is a sprawling novel with many many characters and many plot lines. I read 200 pages over a work week and then sat down and read the rest of the 400 pages over a weekend. Its not a book that you could put down and pick up later on unless you have thoroughly grasped who all the characters are and not have forgotten who they are when you pick up the book later on. If you are a lover of intelligent, beautiful ,in depth writing this book is for you. Having said that the book is not without its flaws. One being is that there are too many characters and plot lines for the 615 pages, so that some of the characters appear as one dimensional and vague - more like flat pictures than multi-dimensional people. Another criticism is the densely detailed description of pottery, paintings and costumes which at times could be a bit tedious. HOWEVER, if one slows down and reads it all - one cannot but feel the incredible beauty and depth of the writing. Overall I have to say this is an amazing brilliant book - a thoroughly satisfying read.
Date published: 2009-08-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from 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. 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.
Date published: 2009-05-30

– More About This Product –

The Children's Book

The Children's Book

by A.s. Byatt

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 624 pages, 9.2 × 6.1 × 1.31 in

Published: November 3, 2009

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0307398080

ISBN - 13: 9780307398086

Read from the Book

Two boys stood in the Prince Consort Gallery, and looked down on a third. It was June 19th, 1895. The Prince had died in 1861, and had seen only the beginnings of his ambitious project for a gathering of museums in which the British craftsmen could study the best examples of design. His portrait, modest and medalled,was done inmosaic in the tympanum of a decorative arch at one end of the narrowgallery which ran above the space of the South Court. The South Court was decorated with further mosaics, portraits of painters, sculptors, potters, the "Kensington Valhalla." The third boy was squatting beside one of a series of imposing glass cases displaying gold and silver treasures. Tom, the younger of the two looking down, thought of Snow White in her glass coffin. He thought also, looking up at Albert, that the vessels and spoons and caskets, gleaming in the liquid light under the glass, were like a resurrected kingly burial hoard. (Which, indeed, some of them were.) They could not see the other boy clearly, because he was on the far side of a case. He appeared to be sketching its contents.Julian Cain was at home in the South Kensington Museum. His father, Major Prosper Cain, was Special Keeper of Precious Metals.Julian was just fifteen, and a boarder at Marlowe School, but was home recovering from a nasty bout of jaundice. He was neither tall nor short, slightly built, with a sharp face and a sallow complexion, even without the jaundice. He wore his straight black hair parted in
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From the Publisher

From the renowned author of Possession, The Children’s Book is the absorbing story of the close of what has been called the Edwardian summer: the deceptively languid, blissful period that ended with the cataclysmic destruction of World War I. In this compelling novel, A.S. Byatt summons up a whole era, revealing that beneath its golden surface lay tensions that would explode into war, revolution and unbelievable change — for the generation that came of age before 1914 and, most of all, for their children.

The novel centres around Olive Wellwood, a fairy tale writer, and her circle, which includes the brilliant, erratic craftsman Benedict Fludd and his apprentice Phillip Warren, a runaway from the poverty of the Potteries; Prosper Cain, the soldier who directs what will become the Victoria and Albert Museum; Olive’s brother-in-law Basil Wellwood, an officer of the Bank of England; and many others from every layer of society. A.S. Byatt traces their lives in intimate detail and moves between generations, following the children who must choose whether to follow the roles expected of them or stand up to their parents’ “porcelain socialism.”

Olive’s daughter Dorothy wishes to become a doctor, while her other daughter, Hedda, wants to fight for votes for women. Her son Tom, sent to an upper-class school, wants nothing more than to spend time in the woods, tracking birds and foxes. Her nephew Charles becomes embroiled with German-influenced revolutionaries. Their portraits connect the political issues at the heart of nascent feminism and socialism with grave personal dilemmas, interlacing until The Children’s Book becomes a perfect depiction of an entire world.

Olive is a fairy tale writer in the era of Peter Pan and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In the Willows, not long after Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. At a time when children in England suffered deprivation by the millions, the concept of childhood was being refined and elaborated in ways that still influence us today. For each of her children, Olive writes a special, private book, bound in a different colour and placed on a shelf; when these same children are ferried off into the unremitting destruction of the Great War, the reader is left to wonder who the real children in this novel are.

The Children’s Book is an astonishing novel. It is an historical feat that brings to life an era that helped shape our own as well as a gripping, personal novel about parents and children, life’s most painful struggles and its richest pleasures. No other writer could have imagined it or created it.


From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

A.S. Byatt is internationally acclaimed as a novelist, short-story writer and critic. Her books include Possession and the quartet of The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman. She was appointed Dame of the British Empire in 1999.


From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

“May well be her masterpiece…. The kind of novel that can remind us why we fell in love with books and literature in the first place.”— The Gazette“Proves yet again what a force she is…. Remarkable, peerless, and wilfully and delightfully and unapologetically intellectual, the kind of writer who makes you marvel at what she manages to put on the page.”— The Herald “Byatt’s novel combines meaty ideas with the breathless page-turning propulsion of an old-fashioned saga…. Brimming with intelligence and sensuality, this is the perfect summer book.”— Metro UK (Book of the Week)“This book made me thirsty: Whenever I put it down, it nagged me to pick it up again…. Monumental, pure, beautiful…. After more than 40 years of writing, Byatt can still breathe magical life into historical fiction, giving her abiding interests new relevance with each work.”— The Globe and Mail“The Children’s Book is a consummate work of art.”—Scotland on Sunday“Easily the best book Byatt has written since the Booker-winning Possession.”— The Sunday Times “Magnificent loquacity…. Gripping and often deeply affecting.”— Literary Review“Compulsively readable…. This extraordinarily rich book is superbly embedded in the thoughts and beliefs and feelings of the period — and indeed in its interior décor.”— The Spectator“You can count on A.S. Byatt to produce an engrossing saga.”— Tatler“Enlightenment and social promotion and political advance in all its forms.”— New Statesman“Has a richness of a pictorial décor wh
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Bookclub Guide

1. What do Olive Wellwood’s fairy stories, presented in the text in italics, add to The Children’s Book?

2. There are some very different women in the book, from the dreamy, absent Seraphita to Phillip’s practical sister Elsie. With these portraits, what is A.S. Byatt saying about women and women’s roles in English society?

3. Violet asks, under her breath: “Who is a child’s real mother? The one who feeds it, and cleans it, and knows its little ways, or the one who leaves it in the nest to do as best it can . . . ?” How is this question explored in The Children’s Book?

4. What is the importance of sexuality to The Children’s Book? What is behind Olive’s response to Humphrey’s liaisons, or his attack on Dorothy, or Dorothy’s eventual link with Gabriel? Do you feel sexuality has changed since the era the book depicts and, if so, how?

5. Who is your favourite character in The Children’s Book and why? How does this character change over the course of the book and why?

6. If you have read A.S. Byatt’s previous novels, such as Possession, how do they compare to The Children’s Book? What is she trying to explore here that is different and how is her method similar or distinct this time around?

7. How do the characters in this book experience death? What is the importance of suicide in the novel?

8. How are Germany and relations between English people and Germans significant in The Children’s Book? What do these elements add to the story?

9. Discuss the theme of childhood, or childishness, in the novel.

10. How do you feel at the end of the book and why?

11. Explore and describe the structure of the novel. How do events follow each other? Which characters come to the forefront or recede? How does A.S. Byatt manage to juggle so many characters and situations without confusing the reader or losing the reader’s interest?

12. The Children’s Book includes some memorable locations, particularly the Tree House, Purchase House and Todefright. How are they different? How does each matter to the story?

13. How is the era depicted in The Children’s Book similar to and different from our own? Is A.S. Byatt trying to tell us anything about our own time with her portrait of the Wellwoods’ time?

14. What is the significance of performance and theatre in The Children’s Book? You might discuss puppet theatre and Shakespeare as well as the importance of performance in daily life.

15. What is ‘The Children’s Book’ referred to in the title, really?

16. In what ways, if any, is The Children’s Book an old-fashioned novel? In what ways is it original? Which other books does it make you think of?

17. What do the occasional historical summaries (e.g. “1896 was a gloomy year. William Morris died in October . . .”) add to the novel?

18. If you could ask A.S. Byatt one question about this book, what would it be?