Shouldn’t reading be fun?!

A S Byatt is robbing me of my life. I still have not finished. It has been almost two weeks since I started The Children’s Book. And I have around 200 pages left to go. I am at a loss to comprehend why exactly this book needs to be this long. There is no plot. There are just seemingly hundreds of characters with confusingly similar names who are floating around doing stereotypical Victorian type things and having stereotypical ‘progressive’ Victorian type thoughts. Oh la la la let’s talk about women’s suffrage and Marxism..la la la…let’s talk about Newnham College and William Morris. Let’s have a Fallen Woman and some ‘read between the lines because I’m not going to spell it out but even so it’s really obvious’ child abuse. It’s like a really, really bad BBC costume drama in print. Desperate Romantics, you know I’m talking about you.

I see what A S Byatt is doing here. I understand that the world of the characters is a microcosm of all the ideas and movements that arose in the mid to late 19th century as a reaction against the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of the world. I get that the interwoven fairy stories and puppet plays are all subversive and deep and meaningful and a reflection of how they are all playing parts in a childlike, idealised world they have created. I totally respect how clever and amazing A S Byatt is and well done her for all of her research and nice metaphors. She writes beautifully and the world she has created is marvellously depicted and really comes to life on the pages. She has clearly put a lot of passion and energy and knowledge into this book and there have been passages that have been so beautifully written that they have momentarily made me thankful that I started it. It is not all bad, and I do wish to stress this.

But seriously, woman! 600 plus pages?! Really? REALLY?!

I am only finishing this because there are moments of brilliance amongst the annoyingness and I have come too far now not to see it through to the bitter end. But I am not happy about it. And wherever she is, I hope she knows I am not happy about it. I have never suffered so in reading a book. War and Peace has become a novella in comparison to the behemoth that is The Children’s Book.

Await a wrathful review some time this week.

Oh and the picture used is a lovely William Morris print. I felt it fitted.

19 comments

  1. Well, that's me taking this book off of my hold list at the library. It will likely show up on a sale table at some point and I can tuck it away to read during a dry spell…or while deserted on an island.

  2. Well, the print is nice, anyway :-)I am really hoping this doesn't win the Booker since I'd like to read ALL the winners but don't particularly want to read this one!

  3. I've seen The Children's Book on the library shelf and walked away. Twice! I might try it as a slow read among other things one day, but quite possibly life is too short.

  4. I'm not so keen to try this. I loved Possession though and thought it was brilliant. I feel like you've just described all her other novels that I've tried. I just couldn't get through them.

  5. I believe I'd've stopped by now – you are obviously made of tougher stuff! Hopefully you'll be able to read something light and fluffy next that will excise all these painful reading memories.😛

  6. Oh dear, poor you. Your perseverence is to be commended – I would have given up by now. Have you ever read anything by her sister, Margaret Drabble? Eminently readable.

  7. Brilliant review, Rachel, and having heard how much Claire is struggling with this book, I have consigned it to the 'definitely not' pile. Not that I got as far as buying it.

  8. Simon, *struggled*. I finished the thing but still livid about the waste of my life it was. I am so relieved that someone else appreciates my pain and suffering. You have my complete and utter sympathies, Rachel.If this wins the Booker tomorrow then I'll cry and perhaps throw things.

  9. I've never read Byatt's fiction. Every Willa Cather book I've read has an intro by Byatt and she writes well on literature. Don't think I'll bother with the fiction, though.

  10. Darlene – Yes, take it off the hold list! There are many better books you could read in the time it would take to read this!Laura – Me too, because if it does I will be very cross! A good novel needs to have an engaging story and this one doesn't!Jane – Life is too short, indeed. If I wasn't so stubborn, I would have given up ages ago. Definitely a slow read in between others.Astrid – I loved Possession too which is partly why I have found this such a disappointment – I was expecting something similar but that is definitely not what I got!Jenny – Yes, I have some lovely books lined up to reward me for the pain I have put myself through!Verity – I am just stubborn! I've never read any Drabble because I thought she was a bit too intellectual but I might give her a go once I have recovered from her sister!JoAnn – No, I wouldn't be in a hurry either! Take it from me!Simon – Thanks! Yes, I wish I had have had the foresight to consign it to that pile two weeks ago!Claire – I feel your wrath! I am so glad you share my opinion! I will also cry and throw things if it wins! Nooo!Nicola – Good strategy! A S Byatt definitely is more of an academic than a novelist in my opinion – parts of this read like fact rather than fiction.

  11. Hmm. Maybe it's a timing/mood thing? Or maybe not!🙂 I have it started but it's been languishing on my night table as it's a hefty book to take to work on the bus every day! Maybe it's better taken in small doses? In any case you're close to finishing and then you can move on to something that you'll hopefully enjoy more!

  12. Yes Danielle, I think I would have fared better if I was reading it amongst other books, but I can't read more than one book at a time because I don't like the pressure of having loads of books to finish! It is one of those books that is so descriptive, it's clearly meant to be something that permeates your imagination and makes you think. This is all very well, but it does need a good amount of plot to propel it forward at the same time and this is what this lacks.

  13. This was a great review, but I am not sure this book would be for me. BTW: thanks so much for considering my 2010 challenge Rachel.

  14. I loved Possesion, and think Byatt is great when she does short stories, but had put this off until it comes out in paperback, only to feel reproached every time I walk past it in a bookshop. Your review has made me glad I'm waiting.

  15. Aw.. how disappointing to hear. I was really hoping to love this one, I was so excited when it came out. I didn't completely love Possession but liked it enough. Now am hesitant to read this. I'd probably just go with Wolf Hall instead.

  16. Diane – No, I don't think a lot of people would get on with this. You'd have to have a certain temperament I think. Perhaps patience; a virtue I sadly don't possess! I can't wait to start your challenge!Desperate – Yes, don't rush to read it. I adored Possession too but this has only too few points of comparison, unfortunately.Claire – Well you might want to give it a go, to see how you feel! Some people have loved it and some have hated it…perhaps it is like marmite! I am keen to try Wolf Hall but not for a little while I don't think!Verity – Well in that case I might give her a go! Thank you for the recommendation!

  17. Ha, 'robbing you of your life'. It is like that when you don't get on with a long book and you don't like giving up. AS Byatt does go on a bit doesn't she. I had the same feeling about Umberto Eco too…

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