Friday, June 04, 2010

Number 12 this year is The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt. I really, really liked this novel, even though it ends quite horribly (and I use 'horribly' because it does end with the horrors of WWI), it starts out so beautifully as we meet a group of familys living in the countryside of England (Kent specifically) towards the end of the Victorian era. The beginning is nearly pastoral; a group of artistically minded, liberal families, their gaggle of precocious children, they put on plays, have revles, tramp around the countryside, and create. Yes, it is perfect. On the surface. For these families all have secrets. Infidelity abounds, artistic genius devolves into maddness, and the beginnings of an anti-Victorian sexual revolution ensnares too many of the younger generation in not positive ways.

The Woodvilles are the book's main family, with Olive Woodville, a writer of children's stories, being the centre. She is a brilliant writer, but in order to tell her stories, she has, almost ironically, had to ignore the rearing of her children. It falls to her sister to bring the Woodville brood up. The closest Olive brings herself to them is that for each child she writes a private tale, tailored to that child, and read only by that child. However, towards the end of the novel she breaks this, and takes the her favourite tale to turn into a stage play. She does not tell her son Tom (whose tale it is), and this invasion of Tom's privacy has distasterous events.

I found this book to be a lovely pastiche of a Victorian novel. It is hugely detailed, rambling and deals with the darkness of society under the bright, civilized trappings of Victorian society. As the world changes, the various generations try to insert themsevles (or not) into the world, learn from it, change it, etc., with variying degrees of success. But the ending overall is quite sad, as WWI comes crashing onto the younger generation, and they pay a heavy price for the changing world.

I borrowed this book from the library, but I'm seriously thinking of buying myself a copy.