Quote of the week- and nearly finished…The Children’s Book

It is a truth universally acknowledged… that I like the odd literary quote. Here is one supplied by Husband, which is especially useful when I have had a blog gap due to not actually finishing reading any books:

“If you cannot read all your books, at any rate fondle them, peer into them, let them fall open where they will, set them back on the shelf with your own hands”

Winston Churchill

Yes people, books need to be loved… another thing that you can’t do with a Kindle.

Anyway, one of the reasons that I haven’t managed many books recently is that I’ve been tackling a ‘big’ book, which has been straining my reading muscles. I have owned this book for a long time, but it was only when it came up at one of my book groups that I started to read it.

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt is a big book in terms of ambition, subject matter and sheer number of characters. Apparently it is her first book for a while, and it almost seems as if she was keen to shove every possible bit of research in that she had compiled. Dealing with the period from the last days of the Victorian era to the First World war, it is at once a book reflecting the limitations of society and expectations for one’s life as well as the opening of opportunities and the discovery of true self. There is romance, adultery, questioned parentage, cruelty, absence both real and spiritual, and the late Arts and Crafts movement in all its glory. In a way it is about a family, and explores what that means, and what it really means to be a parent.

The books are written for the children, as one of the central characters, Olive, writes amazing fantasy stories for her children, and earns her living (and that of her family) by producing books. She lives in a fantasy world, supported by her sister Violet. She is distant from her children, often only communicating with them through writing their own story. These are not light fluffy fairy tales, but dark, frightening fantasies of danger and discovery. It adds to the demands of reading this book; they break into the narrative and comment on the action. This is a book about the role of women in a time of change, when it is no longer possible, if desirable, to merely sit and wait to be married. Elsie, one of the characters who can see more clearly, ponders that if a woman is lifted from work in the kitchen by education, another scullery maid will have to be found.

This is a book that it is quite an undertaking to read, but I am finding it fascinating. It requires concentration, and is dark in tone, but is a really detailed appreciation of a time through the eyes of many characters who are carefully drawn. Read this book, when and if you get some uninterrupted time. It can’t be rushed!

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