Wow, this book is long! It runs about 650 pages, and it is slooooow. The book follows the Wellwood family (mother, father, and seven children, along with some of their close friends and relatives), the members of which suffer intrigue, scandal, loss, and tragedy during the years from 1895 to the first World War. Beautiful writing, but very little plot–this book amounts to the story of their lives, information about the Socialist/Anarchist movement in England, and the events leading up to and resulting in the first World War. If I had to summarize the plot, it would read like a long-running soap opera. And yet… I found it pretty interesting. There were times that I wanted to put this book aside because of the slow, meandering nature of the storyline, but on the whole, I was interested enough in the characters to want to keep reading. Some of the characters were incredibly irritating (for me, especially Olive Wellwood, the mother), and almost every character made a majorly poor decision at some point in the book, but I was still interested in their lives and how they would turn out.
The other aspect that kept me interested in the book was the way the author, A.S. Byatt, wove in information and details about the time period. From the underlying causes of World War I, to the Anarchist movement throughout England and Germany, to the entertainment and parties that were popular at the time, to the rise of electric lights, these details are historically informative enough to ground this book firmly in its time period, but not so dry and dusty as to become boring. (The exception to this, for me, were the sections mostly composed of names I didn’t recognize, but knew I probably should. I got confused and then bored, and eventually I started skimming those sections.)
Please note that, despite the name of the book, this is not a children’s book. (You can probably guess that just from the heft of the novel.) The title of The Children’s Book comes from the fact that Olive Wellwood, the mother, is an author who kept private stories for each of her children and added to them as the children grew up. Among other things, this book contains several sex scenes which, while not graphic, are sufficiently explicit to keep this book out of the hands of children and teenagers.
Rating: Good but Forgettable