Friday, October 16, 2009

The Children's Book

Picked up A S Byatt's latest book, 'The Children's Book' a week ago at the local bookstore. I was quite surprised that they had one of hers, but it's not a bad place ('Exclusive Books', in Riverwalk, Gabarone, a South African chain; has the most choice). I did not really mean to buy more books, have quite enough to last me for the moment, but could not resist. I think it may have been listed for the Booker prize.

In some ways, Byatt always writes the same books; complex arty and often left-wing families, who always seem to be putting on Shakespeare dramas in amateur performances. This one was a bit different, being set at the turn of the 19th/20th century until the end of WWI (my heart sank when I noticed that), and for my liking it contained far too much history - I hate that stuff. It contains a wide mixture of real and imaginary people, and probably real quotes. All sorts of left wingers, from the Webbs to the Pankhursts and so on. Particularly near the end the characters almost disappear under the weight of history. Ok, so it was a horrible time, even before WW1, and the struggle of the suffragettes was quite horrific (just had conversations about women's votes this week on the eve of the Botswana election tomorrow), but I am really not into history.

Apart from that, it was a jolly romp, though also including some deeply disturbed families (my diagnosis - bipolar depression in one person, unipolar depression in at least one other), emotional abandonment and so on. All upper middle class stuff, apart from the working class folk, who somehow fitted in, more or less, on sufferance. Some characters always remained on the edge of things, colourless - one never got an idea of what went on in their heads.

It was a nice read, it's just that I found it much of a muchness for A S Byatt (bit like Isabel Allende, who always writes the same book), and I could not abide all that historical stuff. But maybe that was a new challenge for her.