starlady: (abhorsen)
Byatt, A.S. The Children's Book. New York: Knopf, 2009.

I love A.S. Byatt. I think her Booker Prize-winning novel Possession (1990) is one of the best novels of the past 25 years, and still the best (and also, I think, the originator) of the "present day researchers investigate lives of interesting past people, but only the reader gets the whole story" books. In some ways Byatt writes Victorian novels but includes the bits that the Victorians disregarded or spoke about only euphemistically or didn't notice at all--sex, class, gender.

The Children's Book, which was a finalist for the Booker, follows an interconnected set of artists and families, mostly in England but a little in Germany, from 1895 until 1919. The central figure is Olive Wellwood, modeled on the writer E. Nesbit, a writer of children's stories, along with her husband, her sister and their clan of children. As the novel opens Olive is visiting the new Albert Museum to speak to one of its staff members, Prosper Cain, about objets d'art suitable to build stories on; in the underside of the museum Tom Wellwood and Julian Cain, sons of their respective parents, find a boy their age, Phillip Warren, who's run away from his family in the potteries to be--though Phillip himself is fairly inarticulate about this--an artist, not just a worker. Phillip is deposited in due course in the household of the sculptor Benedict Fludd (modeled on Eric Gill in most respects), who is brilliant but also mad by turns, and from there events spool out.

Good fiction rather than bad lying )

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