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Love it or Hate it? The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt

love-hate-baby

Have you ever noticed how some books seem to drive a wedge between people? You check the reviews and find almost no middle-of-the-road ratings. Instead people either seem to love it or hate it. Welcome to the Love it or Hate it post! Each month, we’ll pick one book to review and two contributors will battle it out to convince you to pick it up or throw it out. Last month we discussed Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. The “Love its” killed it taking over 70% of the vote. Many thanks to our reviewers for their awesome reviews. Michelle was our Love it Reviewer and Lynsey was our Hate it Reviewer.

This month’s selection is also on Boxall’s 1001 List of Books to Read Before you Die and its author is often cited as someone that people either love or hate: The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt. Read the reviews and let us know whether you love it or hate it.

The children's book

Book: The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt
Published in: 2009
Find it/buy it here: The Children’s Book

Synopsis (from Amazon): When children’s book author Olive Wellwood’s oldest son discovers a runaway named Philip sketching in the basement of a museum, 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. The Wellwoods’ personal struggles and hidden desires unravel against a breathtaking backdrop of the cliff-lined shores of England to Paris, Munich, and the trenches of the Somme, as the Edwardian period dissolves into World War I and Europe’s golden era comes to an end.

Love it (Reviewer A): The Children’s Book follows the interlocking lives of several families from 1895 through to 1918.  It covers the prominent themes of shifting societal norms, moving from the serious, sombre Victorians to the free and feckless Edwardians and finally to the discontent of the Georgian era and the devestation of the first world world.

It is a deeply complex novel that explores main the political ideals of the time period including descriptions of the Fabians, Theosphists, Anachists, Marxists, Conscientious Objectors, Suffragettes, and general strikes. All these ideals and societal changes are explored through the eyes of the growing children and their parents. There are cameo appearance of many well known contemporary artists, Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf, H G Wells, the trial of Oscar Wilde, the first performance of Barries Peter Pan and many more. In the exploration of these themes, Byatt includes stories within stories through one character, Olive, who writes fairy tales for children. As a result she highlights the idea of the dark side of fairy tales, the rules that govern them, and their origin in German traditional folklore.

Through the course of the book Byatt covers such topics as child abuse and neglect, bullying, inappropriate relationships, dysfunctional families, and gender equality.

The Children’s book is a great work which at times is very emotional and hard reading. It needs more than one reading to truly appreciate all the complexity. I loved it above all for the complicated relationships between family, the stories within stories, and the fun literary references. It may be a long book, but it is well worth reading!

Hate it (Reviewer B): While this book does address some interesting and important topics, the way in which the author attempts to address them is so dull and uninspiring that I could not focus on the messages. It is extremely long (almost 700 pages), wordy, and pretentious. I couldn’t find much purpose behind most of the extraneous words.

In addition, The Children’s Book contains so many characters that it is difficult to keep track of them all, even if I had wanted to, which I wasn’t particularly inspired to do. Some of the characters were relatively well developed, but I didn’t feel much for any of them. It was written more like a fairytale, and none of the writing inspired any real emotion. The emotional portrayal of the characters was not my emotional language, apparently, so it felt very flat. While I normally like character portraits and small scenes that serve to build the atmosphere, in this case the uninspiring writing left me bored and frustrated.

The only positive thing that I can find to say about this book is that it was slightly better than Possession. I didn’t find any depth to the book that would make me want to explore it at again at any time in the future. On the upside, it could be prescribed as an excellent cure for insomnia.

What do you think? Vote in our poll and tell is if you love it or hate it. If you haven’t read it, you can vote on whether you want to or not. 

Have a book idea for a love it or hate it post? We are always looking for other books to feature. Let us know which books we should feature here.

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oh man that photo of the gangster baby never gets old haha.

    I haven’t read anything by Byatt yet but I’m intrigued. She tends to get a lot of love or hate responses for this book and for Possession.

    Liked by 1 person

    October 1, 2015
    • I love that photo! I liked possession but couldn’t make it through children’s book

      Liked by 1 person

      October 1, 2015
  2. I liked Possession and have a copy of Children’s Book that I picked up for $0.50 so I’ve been planning to give it a try. You’re not filling me with confidence that I’ll love it but its probably worth sticking my toe in the water for a hundred pages or so to see how I like it.

    Liked by 1 person

    October 1, 2015
    • normally, I’m usually on the side of the love it reviewer. I tried to read it at least 3 times and found it really boring but I didn’t make it very far any of the times — I would pick up other books then forget about this one. The love it reviewer does want to make me try again because it sounds so interesting from her review and normally the sort of book I would like.

      Like

      October 1, 2015
  3. I’ve only read Possession. It’s one of my favourite books. I had a spate of re-reading it every year. I’ve read reviews of Ms Byatt’s other works that accuse her of arrogant pretension, so haven’t dared spoil my liking of Possession by reading anything else by her. Plus I really love her sister Margaret Drabble’s books, and she hates Ms Byatt, which also, perhaps unfairly, prejudices me against old Antonia. Still, the Love It reviewer has tempted me towards The Children’s Book.

    Liked by 1 person

    October 2, 2015
    • Fascinating tidbit about the sister. Thanks for sharing. I might try her books!

      Liked by 1 person

      October 2, 2015
      • They’re a lot more grounded in reality! I lived in Sheffield for a period and read everything they had in the city library by Margaret Drabble. The Millstone is my favourite, but The Garrick Year, Jerusalem The Golden and The Realms of Gold also stand out for me.

        Like

        October 2, 2015
  4. Oh my gosh, DESPISED Possession, and this book actually sounds even worse. Great reviews on both sides, but you would have to pay me to read this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    October 2, 2015
  5. I loved Possession, but I found this book long and tedious. I kept expecting it to get better and it didn’t. I love the time period it’s set in, and really love children’s books, so was expecting more from Byatt. Count me in the “hated” camp.

    Liked by 1 person

    October 2, 2015
  6. Guilty as charged – not read any Byatt yet and keep hearing conflicting views so keep on putting it off….

    Liked by 1 person

    October 4, 2015
  7. I’ve had this book for a while, but I haven’t read it yet. It’s quite popular and have gotten a lot of good reviews when it came out. I’m a little iffy about A.S. Byatt. I tried to read Possession and got about halfway through, but I never finished it because I just found it boring.

    Liked by 1 person

    October 11, 2015

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