The Children's Book by A S Byatt is definitely not for children. It's about a group of quasi-Bohemian Brits writing children's stories, making pottery and numerous children. The book is massive partly because it covers a period of time from the end of the Victorian era to the end of World War I. There are numerous characters as well, I can't even begin to describe them all. The adults at the beginning of the novel have issues involving sex and infidelity. Who's the Baby Daddy? is the a question all the children end up having to deal with later on. These parents really know how to eff up their kids.
The Children's Book reminded me of George Eliot's Middlemarch, not just it's sheer size but how it meanders in and out of the lives of the various characters. One minute we're seeing what Dorothy is up to, the next finding out what Olive is thinking. There is a lot of thinking in this book but I never found that it dragged. I loved the characterization. They became so real to me. I keep thinking that they were!
Where Eliot might be overly descriptive of rural scenery, Byatt details the political atmosphere and historical events of the era. It can be overwhelming at times but envelopes the reader in that charged atmosphere, one that fueled art and radical thinking. The characters often just happen to bump into people like Oscar Wilde and JM Barrie. That might be annoying in any other book but considering who these characters are supposed to be, it fits. Besides the real Europe of the time, Byatt creates a world on the edge of a British wood. A place where a writer imagines sinister plots for fairy tales and a mad potter designs disturbing images in clay. Where everyone has secrets hidden away.
A lot of bad things happen during the book and lots of people die but by the end I felt that the characters who deserved happiness found it. It was a satisfying ending and after 600+ pages, I was glad of it.
I highly recommend it but be warned it will suck up a lot of time.
Thanks to Random House for the review copy.