The Children’s Book, by A.S. Byatt – initial thoughts

I’m reading The Children’s Book right now. It’s long and thick and dense and I’m loving it so far. One of my friends who read it said that Byatt tries to do too much in it, and I can kind of see that – flipping to the last few pages, it ends just after WW1, which is indeed a dense topic that can be difficult to get right. I’m enjoying it so far, though, for the most part.

One slight problem I have is that I want to sink into it, to lose myself in it, but I keep getting distracted by things. Some of these things are external, like the adorable dogs walking by when I was reading in the park. Some of them are internal.

Byatt is the type of writer, I think, who does a lot of research on her books – this one uses fairy tales and late Victorian/Edwardian life. She also likes to display the results of her research. This has led, for me so far, to very beautifully written passages about imagination or mythology or the setting, but also 82 pages before the children’s books enter the novel, and no sense of the story yet.

It’s very atmospheric. It’s very beautifully written. It’s one of the few books where I’ve actually made notes (there are a few words that I don’t instantly know, and a few passages I’ve underlined). I’m just ready to get past the staging and to the story. I’m having problems keeping the characters separate – they’re just images right now, not individuals – and am really wondering where things are going to end up.

Two minor issues: 1. Is it mandatory for a “literary” novel to include a masturbation scene (graphic or not)? It’s a trend I don’t quite see the necessity for. 2. Can someone please explain this sentence to me without commas?

Humphry graduated in 1877, two years after the Christian Arnold Toynbee, whose devotion to the needy, and early death, were commemorated by Canon Barnett’s founding of Toynbee Hall, designed as a community of graduates, who would, themselves, live and teach amongst the poor.

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4 Comments

Filed under General Fiction

4 responses to “The Children’s Book, by A.S. Byatt – initial thoughts

  1. James McGraw

    I think someone has to masturbate in literary novels, even if it’s just the author.

    And that sentence is absurd.

    • mendramarie

      I absolutely agree about the sentence. I read it four times before I figured that if it were important, I’d figure it out later.

  2. Kelly

    The more I read that sentence, the more confused I get. It’s nearly Dickensian!

    • mendramarie

      It absolutely reminded me of Dickens, especially some sentences in David Copperfield. That was the first comparison I thought of!

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