Monday, November 16, 2009

A.S. Byatt

Having finished A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book, I am here to report that my instincts halfway through the novel were correct. It's a masterpiece. Also, it's a truly feminist novel -- not a polemic, that is, but an actual work of art that speaks to feminist issues.

A few reviews I've seen have complained about the history infodumps scattered through the novel, but I can't agree. I suppose to those who have a perfect knowledge of Late Victorian/Edwardian history and culture, these may have seemed unnecessary and tedious; but how many readers have that knowledge? Knowing that culture is essential to understanding why these characters are doing what they're doing, and Byatt's renditions kept me (who knew quite a bit about the times and cultures) entertained.

As for the wide cast of characters, well, yes, we do have lots of characters. Dickensian is the operative word. It's a novel, not a tweet. That said, if the novel has a weak point, it's probably this one. I can see how she could have combined some of these characters, and cut others. Julian's role in the novel, for instance...?

But on the whole, this is a wonderful book, worth reading if only for the stories of Philip, our working class boy (who owes only a little to his literary ancestory Pip -- I like him so much better than the Pip in Great Expectations) who runs away from his impoverished life working at the pottery because he wants to make pots; Elsie, his sister; and Dorothy, who decides at 11 to be a doctor.

And then? At the End? WWI. AARGH!


Vance Maverick said...

"AARGH"? Are you just voicing disapproval of the war? (Controversialist! ;-))

Thanks for this -- I'm sure I'll be getting my own copy soon. (And perhaps here in the privacy of this little comment box, I can confess that I don't get Dickens, at all.)

delagar said...

No, AAARGH! as in what it does to the characters.

Although, yeah, what a suckfest of a war that was.