Famous author Olive Wellwood writes a special private book, bound in different colours, for each of her children. In their rambling house near Romney Marsh they play in a story-book world – but their lives, and those of their rich cousins and their friends, the son and daughter of a curator at the new Victoria and Albert Museum, are already inscribed with mystery. Each family carries its own secrets.
They grow up in the golden summers of Edwardian times, but as the sons rebel against their parents and the girls dream of independent futures, they are unaware that in the darkness ahead they will be betrayed unintentionally by the adults who love them. This is the children’s book.
Why it took me three years to get around to reading this Christmas present I do not know, shame on me should be heaped on me but not in public please. The Children’s Book is a novel of extravagant language and layered descriptions,a visually rich treat with striking backdrops and a wealth of flawed and intriguing characters, of generations that rise and diminish in the natural order of things.
To begin with the balance between plot and description was a little to skewed to the detail side of things, especially with the book opening in a museum. Not that I didn’t enjoy that sort of thing but it would have been nice to have a little less so early on when establishing the characters and themes but stick with it as the first part especially is a sumptuous reader’s delight. The book is superbly researched throughout in all manner of subjects from art to politics and the enquiring mind will revel in all the rabbit trails it will lead them on.
Reality and story are intertwined in all these characters’ lives touching them in various ways, the two live side by side as dualities in the memory and become both the reality and also the made up tale. Real life brings veiled secrets, betrayals, love, hate, new understandings of the world, the battle of the classes, the struggle of feminists, the advent or war, the quest for a better, fairer society, the realisation the of self and also of the cycle of life; in terms both of generations and the paths that people take and the same roles and mistake made over and again.
The made up world lying closely in tandem brings an intrigue into the mechanisms of art, the recycling of old ideas bringing forth the new and vibrant adventures. The stories created are symbols to mirror the real world, yet also to aid that need to escape the very same. As evidenced at the time the book is set with such magical stories coming out such as Peter Pan, Puck of Pook’s Hill, Five Children and It, Wind in the Willows, The Railway Children, The Secret Garden and so on.
One pleasing side effect of books is the gentle nudges to explore other works, this one is ingrained with plenty of ideas and suggestions for art, literature, music and theatre. I will be adding a bunch more books to my list from it pages, it really is a treat for bibliophiles and those who like to learn(not that the two are ever really mutually exclusive). The book is ingrained with so many references to artists, authors, musicians and the wide-ranging nature of the subjects encourages the enquiring mind, it was with some excitement that I consulted the internet at various times in the book to understand the nuances of the politics of the time. Normally that would ruin my reading experience as I hate to be interrupted in my flow but this time it added to the experience, that is not to say it is needed to enjoy the book by any means.
There were some minor irritants for me as the book went on, the most obvious was the constancy of the sex references, yes its bound to crop up a lot in this sort of book but it annoyed me to the point of almost skipping ahead, allude to it and move on, we can work it out without the frequent elucidations. After that frustrating middle part of the book where most seemed to reside, it was toned down sufficiently for me to enjoy the rest of the story. I found the pacing of the book to be too slow at the beginning and at the end too quickly wrapped up but on reflection perhaps that perceived speed of time as one ages was being mirrored by the text. A few characters were a little under developed and as a consequence plot threads which would have had impact or been interesting at any rate were left to the reader’s imagination but overall these points are fairly minor compared with the good points above.
It’s a satisfying book on the whole, full of energy, vibrant with life in all its heartache and happiness. Each character is likeable but also mildly irritating in the way that people sometimes are. It can feel like a very long book in places but is always a fascinating look at the period of the Late Victorian and Edwardian times, it really is a book of dualities and also a celebration of creation from children to stories. The act of learning and understanding, not just for pleasure but to better oneself is the journey that this book and so many other can take us on and it positively revels in doing just that. The ending of the book is swift in its entrance, devastating in its emotive impact and is a stark contrast to earlier scenes which make it all the more powerful and a fine crescendo to the lives chronicled.