Tuesday, August 30, 2011


The Children's Book

Another Byatt–how delightful! This one was very good, especially if you have read or read about E. Nesbitt. This is about a Nesbitt-like character who writes for children and lives in a household comprised of more than two adults and children who belong to one of two possible mothers. The Fabian world and mindset is illuminated; this very interesting period of history (end of Victoria, beginning of new century) in England and Europe is examined through the lens of children growing up and differentiating from their parents. (An argument thereby being made about the beginning of the modern age: that’s a dinner conversation right there.) Byatt does a good job of showing how children in a large family relate or don’t and find space for themselves or don’t. Byatt plays her checkerboard of related families and characters very adroitly, jumping this one forward, then that, to carry us forward through history; and the culmination in WW I is brilliant: sketchy, but deeply felt because, in the end, so shockingly few of the golden children we have come to care for survive.

I will confess that I skimmed through the purely political passages fairly rapidly. I am sure they are very good, too, if you like that sort of thing.

In other news, I felt it necessary to pick up something from the reading list accumulated by one of my book groups (after all, this was my idea!) and chose the first of the Simon Serrailler mysteries, The Various Haunts of Men. Meh. Maybe it gets better, but the character of Simon in this book is a bit of a blank: he’s just the boss of the main character and also the object of a sudden and unwanted crush. And then that character is killed off—doesn’t that seem like a strange way to begin a series? I guess he’s supposed to be mysterious: hints of a past, family black sheep, personal but cultured tastes demonstrated by a beautiful apartment in an unlikely neighbourhood. But nothing about Simon was compelling to me, and neither was the writing—not enough to drive me to book two. And in a final note, how does one pronounce Simon’s last name? I want to go French with it, but I know the British will have some wonderfully woolly way of saying it, so I just kind of mentally mumble over it, and that bugs me. Oh, and one last last note: there were about half a dozen words in this book that I had (gasp!) never read before—not fancy words, slangy ones. Shtum, for example. I wish I had noted them all—this doesn’t happen very often.

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