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25 July 2010 @ 05:44 pm
#31  
The Children's Book, A.S. Byatt



This is a book filled with characters and period history, but not much in the way of plot. It deals with the fin de siecle era in England, where by all accounts everyone was facetious and interested in skinny-dipping. Perhaps it's not Byatt's intention, but I came to feel that the horrible reality of war was almost a punishment for a generation of people who so determinedly lived in a dreamworld.

There are three main families: the Wellwoods, their cousins, and the Fludds. Olive Wellwood writes books about her children. The Fludds are headed by Benjamin, who (seemingly?) indulged in incest. Tom Wellwood and Julian Cain discover a boy hiding in the basement of the Victoria and Albert Museum: Philip, who becomes apprenticed to Benjamin Fludd, a master pot maker.

There are far too many storylines. Julian falls in love with Tom, Gerald, and Griselda Wellwood. (That annoyed me; I was hoping for a delicious side-story about Julian and the beautiful Tom, but Julian's presumed bisexuality felt like a cop-out.) Julian's sister Florence falls in love with her brother's lover Gerald, with Herbert Methley and with a random Austrian. Herbert Methley sires any number of children despite being described by his amours as ugly and repulsive.

Years are skipped in a few short paragraphs, so we don't get any indication of the changes that go on in anyone's life, we are just told the consequences. The war years were convenient in that several barely-mentioned characters were simply killed off. It's always difficult to write about the war deaths in a way that isn't hackneyed or predictable, and because the book ends with the war, we don't really see the fallout among the survivors. All in all it's a big, heaving, lumbering sort of book, with shots of brilliance in an overall murky muddle.

her response to any performance, any work of art, was the desire to make another, to make her own.

This I understand.

But Julian was clever and observant enough to see that love was at its most intense before it was reciprocated.

One of the shots I mentioned.

In the end, the British surgeons could not save his foot, and took it off. Months later, he limped into the house in Chelsea, where the two little girls were running to the door, and nearly brought him down. He was rather upset when both Imogen and Florence began to weep wildly.

I must admit I began to weep wildly too, but as that is a very easy response to evoke in me, I don't think it gives any power to Byatt's descriptions.

Names of dead men. I cannot learn the live
Names that come late, boys to replace the boys
Who marched away.


I've read too much fiction about the world wars; no one will ever be able to convince me that war is anything but a ridiculous waste of life. I also hate reading books set before them: the characters are always so blithely unaware of the disaster to come.

Reading about Dorothy and the suffragettes did make me proud to be a doctor and a feminist. I hope I would have done so well in their place.




Previously, on Book Glomp 2010:
The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories, Anton Chekhov | I'll take you there, Joyce Carol Oates | Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides ♥ | The School for Husbands, Moliere | On Green Dolphin Street, Sebastian Faulks | The Famished Road, Ben Okri | Lord of the Flies, William Golding | Moby Dick, Herman Melville | A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway | Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell ♥ | The Sea, the Sea, Irish Murdoch ♥ ♥ | Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad | Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy | The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman | The Sea, John Banville | paddy clarke ha ha ha, Roddy Doyle | The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough ♥ | The Godfather, Mario Puzo ♥ | The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Philip Pullman | Possession, A.S. Byatt ♥ ♥ ♥ | Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales | The Mysteries of Pittsburg, Michael Chabon | Dragon Haven, Robin Hobb, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Carrie Ryan, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon ♥, Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby, Life of Pi, Yann Martel | Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier | At Swim, Two Boys, Jamie O'Neill
 
 
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cleodoxacleodoxa on July 26th, 2010 03:40 pm (UTC)
I thought very much the same thing. Some of the history stuff, like the suffragettes, was probably the best thing about it, only it's, you know, a novel. And I thought the incestuous abuse references were tasteless - not explored enough to give it any depth or the characters any dignity - I don't think we see inside their heads - so it's just a cheap device to add some spice. Once I saw people complaining about how sexual abuse is put in so many things for the sake of cheap angst I started to notice it much more. And the way Tom ends was more going for the obvious without thinking about it, I thought - especially with the Peter Pan parallels. Real people aren't actually wholesome otherworldly forever boys, and are rarely actually unable to live because of it, so I wasn't convinced of his character arc.
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on August 3rd, 2010 11:20 am (UTC)
THIS. The Tom arc was borderline ridiculous. Not to mention we could have done without his tragic death when all her other sons died in the war. Plus, there are more ways of killing yourself than drowning, yet she had both suicides do it. It's not like Tom had any connection to Fludd.

Basically the more I think about it the more it disappoints me. Clearly Possession was a one-off.