The Childrens Book
By A. S. Byatt
I read Possession a while ago, and loved it, so have been wanting to dip into more Byatt books. This was almost as good and like all good books, I looked for reasons to sit down and carry on reading. It is beautifully written and extremely moving in parts.
The story follows a bohemian family, parents, children, friends and acquaintances, for a few years of the late 19th century and into the early 20th. The Wellgood family is a mix of Fabian Society socialists, artists, writers and dreamers, with the mother, Olive, doing most of the earning writing books full of magic and myth. She also writes a story book for each of the many children she and her husband have, weaving their own tale of magical journeys and shape-shifting animals and humans. The real world is boiling with economic and class conflict but many artists of the time were inventing their own worlds. As one of the boys says of all the poverty around, why can't we do something about it?. There's a lot of art, and a lot of discussion but the organising and action is not always present.
The paths of the characters sometimes cross with those of real historical people, like Rodin, Wilde, Shaw and the Webbs. The milieu is one of social improvement, Morris' Arts and Crafts movement and some Utopianism. We watch and partake in the building of the new Victoria and Albert Museum. There are some wonderful descriptions of the craft and art of pottery, and the method of moulding and firing clay. The V&A is a grand museum with a lot of good pots to have a look at.
How do we get out of dreamland? Hic Labor, hoc opus est he said.
"In this task, the labour lies" from Virgil's Aeneid.
Great book, and I've now queued up another of hers: Ragnarok.
This is not the first time I've read Byatt and wished I'd done so on an ereader, so I could highlight a word or phrase and find out what it means. I was not distracted from the enjoyment of reading though, and where I could, I placed a "tag" on the page and checked for meaning later, as with the Aeneid quote above. Some books deserve a bit of study.