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Publisher's Summary

A spellbinding novel, at once sweeping and intimate, from the Booker Prize-winning author of Possession, that spans the Victorian era through the World War I years, and centers around a famous children's book author and the passions, betrayals, and secrets that tear apart the people she loves.

When Olive Wellwood's oldest son discovers a runaway named Philip sketching in the basement of the new Victoria and Albert Museum - a talented working-class boy who could be a character out of one of Olive's magical tales - she takes him into the storybook world of her family and friends.

But the joyful bacchanals Olive hosts at her rambling country house - and the separate, private books she writes for each of her seven children - conceal more treachery and darkness than Philip has ever imagined.

As these lives - of adults and children alike - unfold, lies are revealed, hearts are broken, and the damaging truth about the Wellwoods slowly emerges. But their personal struggles, their hidden desires, will soon be eclipsed by far greater forces, as the tides turn across Europe and a golden era comes to an end.

Taking us from the cliff-lined shores of England to Paris, Munich, and the trenches of the Somme, The Children's Book is a deeply affecting story of a singular family, played out against the great, rippling tides of the day. It is a masterly literary achievement by one of our most essential writers.

©2009 A.S. Byatt; (P)2009 Random House

Critic Reviews

"Easily the best thing A. S. Byatt has written since her Booker-winning masterpiece, Possession . . . A panoramic cavalcade of a novel [and] a work that superlatively displays both enormous reach and tremendous grip." (The Sunday Times, London)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 3.9 out of 5.0
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  • Performance
  • Story

A wandering story that goes on forever.

Any additional comments?

I had anticipated this book and even requested it from audible before it was released in the US. I really wanted to love this book but I just couldn't connect with the story. Fairy tale in flavor and tone. It wanders over hill and dale using beautifully written prose but to me just never got to the point. A disappointment in that no matter how many times I try to finish it-- I just can't seem to do it.

39 of 42 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Cariola
  • Chambersburg, PA USA
  • 03-16-10

A Work of True Genius

The Children's Book is a collection of fantasies--not just Olive Wellwood's evolving children's stories and Stern's marionette shows, but the fantasies lived out by the adults in the decades leading up to the first World War. The expos? of these fantasies is at the heart of the novel. Olive and Humphrey believe in the fantasy of free love: that it causes no jealousy between spouses, nor that it damages any of the seven children in their household, born from various liaisons yet raised to believe they are true siblings. Love, sad to say, does not conquer all, and some in the novel who give it too freely pay a heavy price. Another fantasy: that freedom allows children to grow up happy and full of potential; but freedom taken too far borders upon neglect, and not all children are by nature independent. Another set of fantasies: that art can change the course of world events, and that genius is always to be indulged for its own sake. The list goes on and on. Like the characters' fantasy lives, Olive Wellwood's stories are delightfully magical on the surface yet dark and dangerous underneath.

The novel's style and structure are inseparable, both building on the possibilities and threats in the space between fantasy and reality, between the Victorian age and the new post-world war period. Some readers have complained about excessive details in the first part of the novel; others complain about the brevity of the last. I feel this is intentional on Byatt's part, a verbal realization of the changing cultural and political milieu. The late Victorian period was still addicted to rigid social mor?s and manners, embellishment of one's person and one's home, etc.--and, as such, it gave birth to a myriad of reactionary movements, most of them equally pompous in their moral (or amoral) certitude. On the other hand, the rapid and extensive devastation of the war, a political killing machine gone

12 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

a great little slice of the crafts life

But a little twisted. As in the past, Byatt has a way of showing the dark side of relationships. Between the lines and the fairy tales are some really awful relationships with children and adults. Disturbing almost. Or maybe i was just feeling sensitive that week, but it's not a lighthearted romp despite the fairy tales inserted here and there. it's actually quite sad. and worth the time if you're in the mood for that.

10 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story
  • Wallen
  • Danderyd, Sweden
  • 02-25-16

Confusing with a plethora of characters

The book starts out OK as a social study in late 1800's, but soon turns every which way and becomes quite confusing with far too many characters. As almost every historical novel, this book also blunders in a lot of second guessing by using the views of today in the minds of the people it depicts - and that does not work.
A fair amount of the dialogue is in German and the narrator doesn't have a clue of German pronunciation, which introduces an unintentional comical element.
No, use your time better than to spend time on this book.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Linda
  • Jay, NY, USA
  • 10-13-13

I'm in mourning because I finished it

This is a broad sweeping book, and it helps if you are interested in art history and world history of the late 19th and early 20th century, or are interested in making things, or love fairy tales. As with other Byatt novels, some parts are challenging, while others are magical. For me it brought a great revival of my own interest in making things. I also became caught up in the historical changes, which increasingly build with a sense of doom toward World War I. There are a number of theses and themes interwoven in the cycles of childhood and adulthood that I found interesting and will not mention here to avoid spoiling the plots. There are many stories looking backward while time marches forward. There are, perhaps better on paper, somewhat lengthy catalogues of world events for each period of the book. But I've rarely been so unwilling to part with a book and plan to buy it again in paper. The narrator Rosalyn Landor is extraordinary, and manages male, female, children, magical animals, and multiple foreign accents and latin with great success. Highly recommended.

4 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jim
  • Del Mar, CA, USA
  • 02-11-10

A great Book

I have been an audible subscriber for only two years and this is the best listen so far. Everything about it is great. The reader is perfect for this book. It's long and immersing and so worth the effort. It is life at the turn of the 19th-20th century. I give five stars without hesitation.

5 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

A history lesson

Any additional comments?

A sprawling history lesson of Victorian & Edwardian England through WWI. A bit dry, abstract, & professorial in spots, largely unfocused, but with a richly drawn cast of interesting characters that are a cross-section of English society. I wavered between 3 & 4 stars for the novel itself, and settled on 4 because when Byatt's good, as she often is in this novel, she's very, very good. But what a stunning performance by Rosalyn Landor! She will henceforth, forever and always, be the voice of A.S. Byatt in my head whenever I read other Byatt novels.

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  • Story

I really wanted to love this....

Any additional comments?

Possession is one of my all time favorite books. I expected to love this one as much but I just can't get interested in this book.

4 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Disapointing

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

Too many characters introduced too fast, hard to keep track of. Poor character development due to their sheer number. Too many detailed meaningless descriptions of who was wearing what. Could barely get through Book 1, lost interest. I love listening to Rosalyn Landor , but even she cannot breathe life into boredom and dullness.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Sorry about wasting my credits on this.

3 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • CB
  • 01-27-10

Wanted to like it, but didn't

Listening to this book was a little like walking through hip-deep water. It is well written, but so dense. I felt as though I were trying to enjoy it and get into it, but the story wouldn't meet me half way.

4 of 11 people found this review helpful