I’m about four-fifths of the way through The Children’s Book, by A. S. Byatt. It’s taking me a long time to read, because it’s quite long and also quite hard going in places, both because of the density and complexity of the writing and the subject matter which seems to be relentlessly dark. It didn’t start off that way, but the reader soon learns that many of the characters in The Children’s Book are not what they seem, or who they seem to be, or even, in some cases, who they think they are. They are taken over by their own stories, either as their authors or as unwitting and usually unwilling protagonists.
The book follows the lives of the Wellwoods, Cains and Fludds, plus various interlopers, from the last few years of the Victorian era until the end of World War One. The world modernises – too quickly for the boys caught up in the war as a result, and too slowly for the girls struggling to escape the inevitability of marriage and motherhood experienced by previous generations of women.
I don’t know if I’m enjoying reading The Children’s Book, but that’s only because I’m finding it a bit miserable, not because I think it’s a bad book. Some people have said there’s too much description of art and the technicalities of making pots and things, but I don’t think this is the case, I find that quite interesting. I’ve learnt a few things from reading this book, but most of all I’ve been learnt (or rather been reminded) that storytelling can be an extremely dangerous business.