The Children's Book

The Children's Book - A.S. Byatt This book is really amazing in its historical sweep, but this is also part of its flaw. The book mainly follows one family and its circle of friends through the turning of the 20th century up to WWI. The family is English and has ties to the English Socialist movement, the Fabian society, and various other political/social groups. The mother is a writer of children's stories, and the family also has ties to the various artistic movements of the time, most notably the Arts and Crafts movement. William Morris is mentioned several times throughout the novel both for his art and for his politics. This is where the real interest and value stems from for me. There is so much going on during this era in English society, and several things are mentioned or briefly discussed via the characters, but in general, only in passing. The Grand Exhibition of Paris gets a significant amount of coverage, which was wonderful mainly (for me) because of the author's inclusion of Sarah Bernhardt's Paris performance of Oscar Wilde's Salome (Wilde himself makes a pitiable appearance). After finishing this book, I ran out to pick up anything I could find on British society of the late 19th and early 20th century. The narrative itself is sprawling and there are multiple character point of views, so if you are looking for a traditional, easily packaged narrative, this might not be for you. Because it covers so much of the character's lives, it could only leave me wanting more of them. For me, this is a mark of success, but the end of the book did feel rushed and it felt as if that thing, that magical thing, holding it all together had nearly vanished. The novel ends during WWI, so perhaps this is just a reflection of what the war had done not only to the characters, but also to the world in general. If you are interested in historical fiction, this is a treasure trove of information that will leave you digging for more. If you like your historical narratives in neatly written packages, perhaps you should look elsewhere.