TBR: The Children’s Book
In college, I read A.S. Byatt’s Possession, and loved it. I remember only the vaguest outlines of the plot — two scholars writing about Victorian writers develop a relationship with each other and discover new truths about their subjects — but I can vividly recall what it felt like to read the book, the feeling of falling into it, so that it was just as real as the world around me, only far more clever. After that, I started a few of her other books, and never finished any of them. Just couldn’t get into them at all.
The reviews of Byatt’s latest, The Children’s Book, all consistently said that it’s her most readable book since Possession, and a few people I generally trust about books recommended it, so I picked it up over the holidays. It does share many characteristics with Possession — the elegant language, the meticulously researched historical setting, which left me wondering which characters were real and which fictional, the stories within stories within stories. But it doesn’t really have a plot to drive it forward.
The children of the title (or rather, the children of one meaning of the title) grow older, go to school or not, study, or go into business, or make pots, travel, fall in love, have children, fight in a war, die (from war or suicide). But nothing any of them does really seems to affect any of the others. I’m reminded of the book on writing (can’t remember which one — google attributes the line to John LeCarre but I’m not convinced) that says “The cat sat on a mat” is just a sentence, but the “the cat sat on the dog’s mat” is the start of a story. By that definition of a story, I don’t think The Children’s Book qualifies. But it’s so charming and elegant, and makes you feel so clever for reading it, that I’m not sure I minded.