The Children's Book

Front Cover
Chatto & Windus, 2009 - Authors - 617 pages
Young writer Olive Wellwood, her sister Violet and husband, Humphry, live in a charmed home in the countryside with their seven children, though we follow most closely the older two, Tom, who is a sort of "lost" child more at home in the woods, and his more practical and determined sister Dorothy. Olive is a famous writer of children's books, in the golden age of fiction about children, inventing fairy tales drawn from her reading of folk tales and fantasy, observation of her children's lives, the magic of the Kent landscape and pieces of her own childhood. After her husband resigns his position with a bank, Olive becomes the chief breadwinner for the family. In addition to her published work, she creates for each child a private story, bound in a special journal. Byatt describes several of those books, but she unlocks the one for Tom, Olive's oldest son, with devastating effect. The story ---- about a boy who loses his shadow and must search for it underground ---- closely mirrors Tom's internal and psychological life. When she mines her son's story for a new play, "Tom Underground," a darker take on the motifs of Peter Pan, her son becomes truly lost. When asked by a journalist to explain the private children's books, Olive says: " 'Well, I sometimes feel, stories are the inner life of this house. A kind of spinning of energy. I am this spinning fairy in the attic, I am Mother Goose quacking away what sounds like comforting chatter but is really ---- is really what holds it all together.' She gave a little laugh, and said 'Well, it makes money, it does hold it all together.' " Behind the public story of Olive and Humphry's marriage is a series of private indiscretions, including some startling revelations. On the surface, middle-class Victorian and Edwardian England may have been obsessed with appearances and propriety, but as with every age, all-too-human desires lurk just underground. Secret passions electrify the stories of the other families, too ... There's an investment banker and his German wife and their anarchist son; the mercurial Arts and Crafts ceramicist Benedict Fludd and his addled family; and a widowed military man whose Cambridge Apostle son is struggling with his homosexuality. Add to this heady mix a true lost boy who escaped from a pottery factory and is discovered hiding below the Victoria and Albert Museum ...

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User Review  - baswood - LibraryThing

A tremendously ambitious novel that charts the lives of five interconnected families and friends from 1895: the late Victorian period to George V and the end of the first world war. The families are ... Read full review

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User Review  - PilgrimJess - LibraryThing

"Harm can come about without will or action. But will and action can avert harm." The novel opens in 1895 and revolves around the Wellwood family, led by children’s authoress Olive Wellwood. Olive’s ... Read full review

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About the author (2009)

A.S. Byatt is a novelist, short-story writer and critic of international renown. Her novels include Possession (winner of the Booker Prize 1990), the Frederica Quartet and The Children's Book, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction. She was appointed CBE in 1990 and DBE in 1999, and was awarded the Erasmus Prize 2016 for her 'inspiring contribution to life writing' and the Pak Kyongni Prize 2017. In 2018 she received the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award.

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