I tend to read quickly, and if I sit down with a book the size of The Children’s Book (provided I don’t have classes or work) I can finish it in two to three days. I had the time to do that, but I ended up taking a month to read this book. I had to read little snips and pieces at a time, a chapter here or there. There were so many stories and little plots going through it that I found myself taking notes, just to keep track of my thoughts.
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, The Children’s Book follows a family and their friends through their lives leading up to the first World War. It starts with a child living in the basement of a museum, and he is brought into the world of what feels like hundreds of strange characters. A author of fairy tales and her family, with its many children and skeletons in the closet, an eccentric potter with a drug addicted wife and two blank children, various anarchists, socialists, British bankers…the list goes on, until you become hopelessly confused as to who is who and what plot they are wrapped up with. There seems to be no unifying plot to the novel, it wanders into one plotline to another. As a reader, I was never satisfied, never given enough from the characters I liked most.
It was well written, gorgeously so, but that didn’t save it from dragging or being bogged down in the details. I feel that if I did not have the strange background that I do in history and useless knowledge I would have needed to look up half of the references to the organizations and politics in the novel. For example the main characters mostly come from a family of Theosophists, and if you don’t know the Theosophists, a lot of little nuances are lost. Those little nuances make the book 100% easier to read. Brush up on your Marxism and Anarchist history as well, if you want to make the most out of the history in this book.
Ultimately, I did enjoy reading The Children’s Book. I loved and hated it by turns, but that kept it interesting for me. However, I wouldn’t recommend it to a stranger. Actually, I’d only recommend it if I had extensive knowledge of your reading tastes and your research and google skills/educational background.
So, if …this mangled review didn’t scare you away: