The Children's Book

  • by A. S. Byatt
  • Narrated by Rosalyn Landor
  • 30 hrs and 21 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

A spellbinding novel, at once sweeping and intimate, from the Booker Prize-winning author of Possession, that spans the Victorian era through the World War I years, and centers around a famous children's book author and the passions, betrayals, and secrets that tear apart the people she loves.When Olive Wellwood's oldest son discovers a runaway named Philip sketching in the basement of the new Victoria and Albert Museum - a talented working-class boy who could be a character out of one of Olive's magical tales - she takes him into the storybook world of her family and friends.But the joyful bacchanals Olive hosts at her rambling country house - and the separate, private books she writes for each of her seven children - conceal more treachery and darkness than Philip has ever imagined.As these lives - of adults and children alike - unfold, lies are revealed, hearts are broken, and the damaging truth about the Wellwoods slowly emerges. But their personal struggles, their hidden desires, will soon be eclipsed by far greater forces, as the tides turn across Europe and a golden era comes to an end.Taking us from the cliff-lined shores of England to Paris, Munich, and the trenches of the Somme, The Children's Book is a deeply affecting story of a singular family, played out against the great, rippling tides of the day. It is a masterly literary achievement by one of our most essential writers.

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What the Critics Say

"Easily the best thing A. S. Byatt has written since her Booker-winning masterpiece, Possession . . . A panoramic cavalcade of a novel [and] a work that superlatively displays both enormous reach and tremendous grip." (The Sunday Times, London)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A wandering story that goes on forever.

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I had anticipated this book and even requested it from audible before it was released in the US. I really wanted to love this book but I just couldn't connect with the story. Fairy tale in flavor and tone. It wanders over hill and dale using beautifully written prose but to me just never got to the point. A disappointment in that no matter how many times I try to finish it-- I just can't seem to do it.

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- SC

A Work of True Genius

The Children's Book is a collection of fantasies--not just Olive Wellwood's evolving children's stories and Stern's marionette shows, but the fantasies lived out by the adults in the decades leading up to the first World War. The expos? of these fantasies is at the heart of the novel. Olive and Humphrey believe in the fantasy of free love: that it causes no jealousy between spouses, nor that it damages any of the seven children in their household, born from various liaisons yet raised to believe they are true siblings. Love, sad to say, does not conquer all, and some in the novel who give it too freely pay a heavy price. Another fantasy: that freedom allows children to grow up happy and full of potential; but freedom taken too far borders upon neglect, and not all children are by nature independent. Another set of fantasies: that art can change the course of world events, and that genius is always to be indulged for its own sake. The list goes on and on. Like the characters' fantasy lives, Olive Wellwood's stories are delightfully magical on the surface yet dark and dangerous underneath.

The novel's style and structure are inseparable, both building on the possibilities and threats in the space between fantasy and reality, between the Victorian age and the new post-world war period. Some readers have complained about excessive details in the first part of the novel; others complain about the brevity of the last. I feel this is intentional on Byatt's part, a verbal realization of the changing cultural and political milieu. The late Victorian period was still addicted to rigid social mor?s and manners, embellishment of one's person and one's home, etc.--and, as such, it gave birth to a myriad of reactionary movements, most of them equally pompous in their moral (or amoral) certitude. On the other hand, the rapid and extensive devastation of the war, a political killing machine gone
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- Cariola

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-06-2009
  • Publisher: Random House Audio