The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt

The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt

The Children’s Book spans the Victorian Era through the end of World War I and centers around the artistic Wellwood family and their friends.

Olive Wellwood, a popular author of children’s books, lives with her husband Humphry and her seven children in an idyllic cottage where the Wellwoods host Midsummer parties and meet with their artistic friends. On the surface, the Wellwoods seem like the perfect family, but as the novel unfolds, we learn that nothing is quite as it seems. The Wellwoods have many dark secrets, and when these are unveiled, the consequences are damaging for everyone. But Olive and Humphry are not the only ones in this situation, as their friends also seem to have a few skeletons in the closet: unwanted pregnancies, infidelities, illegitimate children and hidden pasts are only a few of them.

Even though the novel is called The Children’s Book and Olive Wellwood is an author of children’s books, this is not a book for children. It’s a novel about the relationship between adults and children, but it’s also a novel about art and creativity and the author skillfully shows us how this creativity and the need and passion to create can destroy both, adults and children.

The Children’s Book is a complex dark novel, which is hard to summarize, since it does not center on a main character, but rather focuses on a large cast of characters. The detailed book gives the reader a social, historical and cultural account of the Victorian and Edwardian Era and it draws a rather disturbing family portrait of that time. A. S. Byatt touches on various themes such as socialism, women’s suffrage, education, pottery and puppetry, but her novel also focuses on subjects such as sexuality and incest.

I have heard so many good things about this book in the past, therefore, I really wanted to read it. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it and I was very disappointed with this novel. I expected this book to be outstanding and in my opinion, it was not. I know that The Children’s Book has been greeted with praise by many critics and readers, but I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it. The author has introduced too many characters in her novel and thus, the reader easily becomes overwhelmed and cannot fully connect with them. Furthermore, the book contains too much background information on the characters and the author provides us with too much historical information and with too many comments on ideologies and political events. The Children’s Book is told in excessive detail and the author feels the need to describe everything to the reader, from clothing to meals and puppet shows, and thus, these descriptions detract from the story. I also didn’t like the themes presented in this book; I suppose I am too conservative, but there is too much talk about sex / sexuality / sexual desires in this novel. I disliked reading about subjects such as adultery, secret parentages, illegitimate children, pornographic pottery (which reveals acts of incest) and other bizarre things. All in all, I think that the book is too disturbing and sickening for my taste. I am sure that other readers will like this book and even think that it’s excellent and masterly, but in my opinion, its themes are too revolting and the novel is overloaded with information and focuses on too many characters.

I would like to thank Knopf Publishers for sending me a copy of this book.


The Earth Hums In B Flat

I just finished reading The Earth Hums In B Flat by Mari Strachan. I discovered this charming book at Vivienne’s lovely blog, Serendipity, and I am so glad I did, because I loved this book!

The Earth Hums in B Flat tells the story of a curious young girl who lives in a small Welsh village. Every night in her dreams, twelve-year-old Gwenni flies above her village, observing its people and their hidden secrets. One night, she sees something disturbing that she can’t easily forget. The next day, Mr. Evans, the husband of Gwenni’s teacher disappears and the village people start gossiping. There are many rumours going around about the missing man and his family, but Gwenni wants to discover the truth about what really happened. Thus, she plays detective and starts to ask people questions about the man’s whereabouts. However, Gwenni finds out more than she maybe wanted to know and she soon learns that everyone seems to have a secret, even her own family. Moreover, since she has disclosed so many secrets, she now has to deal will the fact that her life will never be the same again!

I really loved this book, since Gwenni is such a sympathetic character. Her own family and other village people think that she is odd, but she is just a curious young girl with a vivid imagination. She is very clever and just tries to understand everything that happens around her. She just wants to understand human behaviour, and therefore, she asks many questions. The people around her don’t like her questions, since they have something to hide and they don’t want their secrets revealed. However, Gwenni doesn’t seem to stop investigating until she has found out everything she needs to know!

The Earth Hums in B Flat is a wonderful and magical novel full of secrets and mysteries. This book is beautifully written and provides us with an intriguing portrait of life in a small Welsh town!