Booknotes: Byatt’s The Children’s Book

June 21, 2010 @ 6:50 pm | Filed under:

Olive was sometimes frightened by the relentlessly busy inventiveness of her brain. It was good and consoling that it earned money, real bankable cheques in real envelopes. That anchored it in the real world. And the real world sprouted stories wherever she looked at it. Benedict Fludd’s watery pot on the turn of the stair, for instance. She looked casually at the translucent tadpoles and had invented a whole water-world of swimming water-nymphs threatened by a huge water-snake, or maybe by that old terror, Jenny Greenteeth, lurking in the weeds and sifting them with her crooked fingers, before she reached the landing.

Yesterday’s events had also transmuted themselves into story-matter, almost as fast as they happened. She had watched Anselm Stern’s version of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s tale with glee—her response to any performance, any work of art, was the desire to make another, to make her own.

—from The Children’s Book, A. S. Byatt

A third of the way into the book, I don’t altogether like Olive, Byatt’s Edith Nesbit-esque children’s book writer, mother of a large family, amiable queen of an idyllic country home called Todefright. There are hints of a kind of grim selfishness lurking under the surface of her bright, witty, energetic personality. But I heartily sympathize with her as she is described in this passage: the restlessness of mind, the perpetually unspooling narrative, the inescapable inventive fervor.

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  1. Rebecca says:

    I’m heading toward the half-way point.

    I don’t find Olive all that likeable either, but I feel a bit removed from all the adult characters at this point, perhaps because they don’t seem to like their children very much. Or perhaps it’s because they wear their ideals like some sort of emotional and social armour. I have to discipline myself to actually pick up the book (which is unusual for me), although I usually enjoy it once I have a page or two under my belt.

    Not my favourite A.S. Byatt book. Yet.