Sunday, December 20, 2009

Day Twenty: The Children's Book

It's the Saturday before Christmas. And it's Day Twenty in The 24 Days of Books. Yes, it is, because it's only 11:30 pm, so there's still another 30 minutes left in Day Twenty! We haven't talked about fiction for a while, so today we're going to talk about fiction, and darned good fiction. The Children's Book, by A.S. Byatt, was a finalist for this year's Booker Prize.

A spellbinding novel, at once sweeping and intimate, that spans the Victorian era through the World War I years, and centers around Olive Wellwood, a famous children's book author, and the passions, betrayals, and secrets that tear apart the people she loves. When Olive's oldest son discovers a runaway named Philip sketching in the basement of the new Victoria and Albert Museum - a talented working-class boy who could be a character out of one of Olive's magical tales - she takes him into the storybook world of her family and friends. But the joyful bacchanals Olive hosts at her rambling country house - and the separate, private books she writes for each of her seven children - conceal more treachery and darkness than Philip has ever imagined. As these lives - of adults and children alike - unfold, lies are revealed, hearts are broken, and the damaging truth about the Wellwoods slowly emerges. But their personal struggles, their hidden desires, will soon be eclipsed by far greater forces, as the tides turn across Europe and a golden era comes to an end.

Taking us from the cliff-lined shores of England to Paris, Munich, and the trenches of the Somme,The Children's Book is a deeply affecting story of a singular family, played out against the great, rippling tides of the day. A.S. Byatt traces their lives in intimate detail and moves between generations, following the children who must choose whether to follow the roles expected of them or stand up to their parents’ “porcelain socialism.” It is a masterly literary achievement by one of our most essential writers.

One reviewer wrote this about The Children's Book: “This book made me thirsty: Whenever I put it down, it nagged me to pick it up again…. Monumental, pure, beautiful…. After more than 40 years of writing, Byatt can still breathe magical life into historical fiction, giving her abiding interests new relevance with each work.”

A.S. Byatt was born Antonia Susan Drabble in August 1936 in Sheffield, England. Her younger sister is the novelist Margaret Drabble. In 1990 she was awarded the Booker Prize for fiction for her novel Possession: A Romance.

For many more gift-giving ideas -- including lots more fiction suggestions, such as this year's Booker Prize winner -- check out our gargantuan December newsletter, which you can read by clicking here.

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