I really enjoyed it too, and it definitely made me look at late Victorian/Edwardian children's literature in a totally different light.
Just this past weekend three people have mentioned The Children's Book to me, I see it front row and center at the local bookstore, and you're the second person online whose enthusiastic comments I've read. I'm caving in now - I think this will be one of the next books I read.
I'd be interested in your judgment on The Children's Book. I fear I've tended to hold Byatt at arm's length, having only previously read Babel's Tower. But just before Christmas there was an hour long interview with her by Mark Lawson and I was struck by how honest, clear-sighted and balanced she was so I may give her another try. A notable anecdote: bringing up kids left her very little time to write but she did like to watch Wimbledon. So she would compose what she wanted to say during the action and write it down very quickly during the breaks between games. High level self-organisation.
One of the things I like about her is how deftly she weaves her fictional characters and narrative into the historical one, so at times it's almost what's sometimes called 'faction', which can be an awful and graceless genre, but she does it brilliantly, with every period she writes about. So you have a kind of parallel universe where not only were there the real figures and events that you know about but a whole set of other ones which didn't exist and happen but could have. So I'm frequently running to Google or the Oxford Companion or whatever to find out who was real and who wasn't. With that she creates marvellous pastiche, which is convincing but at the same time ironic, so it's just a bit more so, more highly coloured, than what it's a a pastiche of. ( Which is probably a tautology...)And it just seethes with colour and detail and description, which I love. Sure, there are an awful lot of pots, but then I enjoyed 'Memoirs of a Geisha' for all the descriptions of kimono, I just like oodles of meticulous visual and sensory detail. Some critics said she's trying too hard to educate her readers, but I don't actually mind being educated about history and culture like that, though I don't particularly like being lectured and preached at - like Barbara Kingsolver sometimes does IMHO.And she really loves the late 19th century, which is unusual; it's a period many people are still quite uncomfortable with, I think.BB, you picked about the worse one to start with, I think. 'Babel Tower' is brilliant but almost unpalatable, and needs to be read as part of the quartet to which it belongs. I can't imagine being able to get through it otherwise. As it was I was going around for ages thinking how much I hated but couldn't help having it in my head, which was kind of the point, I suppose. Try 'Angels and Insects' as a starter, maybe, or 'Possession' of course, though Plutarch says he didn't care for the (modern) central characters and he might have a point... actually her characters often aren't exactly nice but they are very, very solid.
Thanks for the intro. Mrs BB has The Children's Book on her list and when it arrives I may do what I so rarely do and read a title of her choosing. I should explain about Babel's Tower. It was a 20 p throwaway hardback from the local library in very bad condition (Plutarch is disinclined to read books in this state) and the price alone indicates it was a speculative purchase. I was of course aware of AS Byatt but cannot now remember the impulse to spend even 20 p. It would have been against the grain because I've tended to link her with her sister and there even 20 p would have been an indulgence. For me MD never recovered from an anecdote in a non-fiction book about lighthouse keepers. The author was cloistered with one of his subjects who spent much of his time reading. Abruptly the keeper stood up, opened the window and hurled the book he was reading into the North Sea. It was of course a Margaret Drabble. In my defence I should say we have the Oxford Book Companion to English Literature (bought new!) which was edited by her and she did a good job. I read Babel's Tower some years ago and all that remains is some rather gratuitous stuff about a horrible torturing device. However I shall come again.
Did you have "roasted crabs"?As a young reader of WS I always wondered where they were getting those crabs which were "hissing in the bowl". Having now a crab apple tree of my own all is clear
BB - I've never read much Margaret Drabble, and what I have hasn't interested me much. There is some fairly vile stuff in 'Babel Tower' it's true. But I would recommend some other books of AS Byatt's.Avus - Tom asked me what on earth I was on about, his education was in music maths and science, not art and letters, and as is typical within the British educational system, never the twain. When I told him about Tom bearing logs into the hall, he said why didn't I add that bit, I said it was because I was the one that fetched the logs. One of my students who reads this blog came in today proudly bearing an old typewritten copy of the poem, saying that their last English teacher but one, who was French and very old school, made them learn it.I'm still a bit puzzled about roasted crab apples, as they seem too small and sour to be worth the bother.
love these icicles
I like her, though a friend doesn't, saying she just can't help but show you how clever she is. I thought the ML interview was great, especially the bit when she explained her idea of "randomly" killing off her leading character. I remember reading the book and thinking it was such an audacious thing to do.Why am I singing "icicles" to what I think is a Queen tune?
I love your collage, Lucy!
I like the symmetry of the icicles in the picture, 2nd row - 1st.
I will definitely read The Children's Book in the fullness of time. I have not read any Byatt since giving a friend The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye. I liked those stories but found the book a bit too self flattering for the author. I loved reading Possession but wouldn't re-read it again. The poetry attempts were audacious but very mediocre. I like her prose, her wide ranging curiosity and her tart assessments of individuals. But in my opinion she resists the kind of self-removal that would make her writing better.
Thanks again.Nimble, you are clearly a sharper and more exigent critic than I am, and I bow to your judgement. I suppose I turned away from her for a bit; I couldn't work up any enthusiasm for 'The Biographer's Tale' because I felt she was getting too caught up in her own cleverness. Bits of this one read like straight history, I read quite a lot of history anyway so that doesn't put me off. The pastiche poems in 'Possession' were funny, weren't they? An odd mixture of Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti for her, but I don't know Browning well enough to feel that his were a poor copy, as I have heard. But I was impressed with the whole idea of doing that anyway.I'm still very absorbed in 'the Children's Book', but might be a bit saturated and want a change by the end.
Spread the word! I finished 'The Children's Book' last week and felt bereft. Quite the most absorbing novel I have read in years - for all the reasons stated here and more.
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