A.S. Byatt – The children’s book

I would like to start with a disclaimer here. This is by no means a complete review of this novel. It is a collection of my thoughts and nothing more. To make a serious attempt at a review I would have to read this a second time, which I did not do yet.

I really enjoyed reading this novel, the cast of characteres, the themes running through it, the things I learned about arts and fairytales and the historical context, all combined really provided too much for me to be able to absorb it in one reading. I will definitely read this again and make more notes. Also: I need to find myself some of the E.T.A. Hoffmann tales, I remember that we discussed him in German literature classes, but that is all.

At the beginning of the novel, the character of Philip Warren really reminded me of a sort of Dickensian orphan, like Gooseberry in ‘The moonstone’ or Jo in ‘Bleak House’. As we get more insight into Philip, this resemblance disappeared.

I noticed that some characters are very well drawn out. Their personalities and motives become really convincing, this applies especially to the young people, such as Tom, Dorothy and Philip. But it does not hold for all characters. I would have liked to know more about  Violet Grimwith, for example. But I understand that the book would have become enormously long if the motives etc. of all characters were described in detail.

There are many themes running through this novel. For me they sort of divided themselves into two parts. On the one hand there is the theme of art, the process of creation and its influence on personal relationships of artists. On the other hand there are the various societal changes that are occuring, socialist movements, women’s suffrage, etc. Towards the end it seems as though the societal themes get the upper hand and art is forced to the background by loss, grief and war. I am not sure whether there is some message behind this. I also felt that the story-lines for the young people are more satisfactorily brought to a conclusion that for the older people. Especially with respect to Violet, Humphry and Olive we are sort of left hanging.

I really enjoyed the parts of the book where Dorothy and Griselda visit Anselm Stern in Munich, and the visit of a large group of characters to the world exhibition in Paris. I felt those sections of the novel really allowed the author to combine her love of art and fairytales on the one hand and for her characters on the other.

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