The Children's Book


The Children's Book is a 2009 novel by British writer A.S. Byatt. It follows the adventures of several inter-related families, adults and children, from 1895 through World War I. Loosely based upon the life of children's writer E. Nesbit [1] there are secrets slowly revealed that show that the families are much more creatively formed than first guessed. It was shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize.[1]

The Wellwood family (Olive, Humphrey, Olive's sister Violet, and many children) are Fabians, living in a world of artists, writers, craftsman, all moving into new ways to express art, and living an artful life, before the horrors and loss of the Great War. While the central character of Olive is a writer of children's literature, supporting her large family with her writing, the title of the book refers to the children in the book: Tom, Julian, Philip, Elsie, Dorothy, Hedda, Griselda, Florence, Charles/Karl, Phyllis and others, following each as they approach adulthood and the terrors of war.[2]

In an interview with The Guardian Byatt says: "I started with the idea that writing children's books isn't good for the writers' own children. There are some dreadful stories. Christopher Robin at least lived. Kenneth Grahame's son put himself across a railway line and waited for the train. Then there's JM Barrie. One of the boys that Barrie adopted almost certainly drowned himself. This struck me as something that needed investigating. And the second thing was, I was interested in the structure of E Nesbit's family — how they all seemed to be Fabians and fairy-story writers." The book has so many fictional and historical characters that Byatt had to create a spreadsheet in Excel to keep track of them all.[3]

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