05 January 2011

the best book I read last year?


'This was the Wellwoods’ third Midsummer Party. Their guests were socialists, anarchists, Quakers, Fabians, artists, editors, freethinkers and writers, who lived, either all the time, or at weekends and on holidays, in converted cottages and old farmhouses, Arts and Crafts homes and working-men’s terraces, in the villages, woods and meadows around the Kentish Weald and South Downs. These were people who had evaded the Smoke, and looked forward to a Utopian world in which smoke would be no more.'

I read ravenously in 2010-still nothing caught my attention quite like A. S. Byatt's The Children's Book

"It will probably never be said of Byatt's writing that she wears her learning lightly, and her lengthy disquisitions on the building blocks of her narrative both support and bloat the novel; her briskly delivered but expansive accounts of, among other things, the development of London's museums, of late Victorian banking crises, of pottery and puppetry and of the Arts and Crafts, Fabian and suffrage movements are never less than informative but sometimes a little less than compelling. (...) But Byatt is brilliant on the gathering forces of England and Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, their contrasting attitudes towards the part that the land plays in the collective unconscious, their differing forms of nostalgia." - Alex Clark, The Guardian

Here, illustrated from the imaginings of the Pre-Raphaelites.


"You know, it's a truism that writers for children must still be children themselves,
deep down, must still feel childish feelings, and a child's surprise at the world. "

"She didn't like to be talked about. Equally, she didn't like not to be talked about, when the high-minded chatter rushed on as though she was not there. There was no pleasing her, in fact. She had the grace, even at eleven, to know there was no pleasing her. She thought a lot, analytically, about other people's feelings, and had only just begun to realize that this was not usual, and not reciprocated."

The story books were kept in a glass-faced cabinet in Olive’s study. Each child had a book, and each child had his or her own story. It had begun, of course, with Tom, whose story was the longest. Each story was written in its own book, hand-decorated with struck-on scraps and coloured patterns. Tom’s was inky-blue-black, covered with ferns and brackens, some real, dried and pressed, some cut out of gold and silver paper. Dorothy’s was forest-green, covered with the nursery scraps of small creatures, hedgehogs, rabbits, mice, bluetits and frogs. 
Phyllis’s was rose-pink and lacy, with scraps of gauzy-winged fairies in florid dresses, sweet-peas and bluebells, daises and pansies. Hedda’s was striped in purple, green and white, with silhouettes of witches and dragons. Florian’s book was only little, a nice warm red, with Gather Christmas and a yule log.

‘It is a terrible thing to be a woman. You are told people like to look at you – as though you have a duty to be the object of…the object of… And then, afterwards, if you are rejected, if what you…thought you were worth…is after all not wanted…you are nothing.’
She gave a little shrug, and pulled herself together, and said, ‘Poor Elsie,’ in an artificial, polite, tea-party voice, though she had not offered, and did not offer, to make tea.

Christopher Dresser Linthorpe Vase

These children, Julian thought, had been charmed and bamboozled as though some Pied Piper played his tune and they all followed him, docile, under the earth. The Germans had sunk the liner, Lusitania, and Charles Frohman, the impresario who had staged Peter Pan, had drowned with gallant dignity, apparently reciting the immortal line which had been judiciously cut from wartime performances: To die will be an awfully big adventure.

there were many wonderful books I read, what was your favorite? read The Children's Book?

explore the Pre-Raphaelites this year.


  1. You have some wonderful paintings and book illustrations, most of which I know.

    But you have two ceramic pieces and one piece of jewellery that are different. The two-handled vase you will find in the Dresser article:
    http://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com/2010/12/christopher-dresser-porcelain-and-laws.html . But what is the other ceramic pot, surrounded by a silver cuff? It is gorgeous!

    Thanks for the link
    2011 should be a great year for blogging :)

  2. I totally agree - I read many, many books in 2010 but nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to The Children's Book. I love the pictures and quotes here - what an era!

  3. I did read The Children's Book, but I have very mixed feelings about it, to be honest. I thought it was well written ... but it was far too ambitious, in my opinion. I felt Byatt had either done too much research and was reluctant to cut any of it out or, worse, she was showing off. In either case, it didn't really work for me after the first 200 pages or so. The last part of the book, particularly, seemed to me not much more than a lot of name-dropping of with the story itself nearly completely forgotten. As the review in The Guardian says, "It will probably never be said of Byatt's writing that she wears her learning lightly."

    My favourite of the year was Mrs. Dalloway. I love Virginia Woolf, but hadn't read this one before. There's such an art in creating a novel out of one small day; Woolf can make one tiny moment in time into something meaningful and beautiful and intense. The second when Mr. D is about to step into a room where a party is being held, and Woolf describes it as diving into water ... so moving.

    Perhaps I liked it so much because Woolf is the antithesis of Byatt! Mrs. Dalloway is concentrated and tight, and The Children's Book is sprawling and loose.

  4. good morning Gaye . FABULOUS! thankyou I have had a grand passion for the PRB since i was 13 so seeing ECB-J is always a pleasure and also Spencer and Dadd I did a small thing on ECB-J in my first ART moments but its always a pleasure.Art Nouveau jewelry is also mmmmm delicious great way to strt the day fay x

  5. Hels, one of the perils of blogging-misplacing information. I have gathered some images for this post over the entire year. I will see about a book mark for it. It is a wonderful period.

  6. Jenni- I found it so too. ThingsHelenLikes- I think this is one conundrum many readers found in the book. This- I believe- is a longtime period of interest for Byatt. It being the same for me -the intricacies of that period in art and craft laced throughout the book kept me turning the pages. Interesting Mrs.Dalloway is written quite concentrated-though Mrs Dalloway longs to be more loose and sprawling-I think.

  7. Fay, Some things never tire us.pgt

  8. Little Augury, Having read the book some of the paintings you selected are just perfect. I am completely enamored with the first one. This format is one of your best and most unique about your blog.

  9. I haven't read it yet, but I really enjoyed Posession so I must add it to my list. My favourite book this year was probably The Moonstone - a bit of a golden oldie there!

  10. Dear Gaye, what lovely recommendations! I shall add these to my list. The A. S. Byatt cover is beautiful as are the images you've used. Stunning! xx

  11. Anon, thank you much- I thoroughly enjoy doing them so to know that you are pleased brings me pleasure.

    Christina- I loved it. Love reading about all of your movie watching of late. sounds perfect to me. pgt

  12. Penny Dreadful, One of my favorites as you will see here- a post in the same vein as this one art and quotations from the Moonstone. I hope you read it. pgt

  13. Bless you! The Children's Book is next up on my bedside stack!!

  14. You make a very good case for the Byatt, and this entry is quite generously rich. I'll consider myself fortunate to have this recommendation. Of the books I read last year which could be favoured and also of possible interest to your readers, I don't hesitate to name Lawrence Durrell's "Sicilian Carousel" (1977) - which has been kicking around my domicile for a long time but which, because of a Sicily "bug" sparked by a recent wine book, I gave concentrated attention after all these years. I'm glad I waited, because as in all his travel writing, Durrell shares a great deal of his attitudes about writing as well as what he is seeing, and it's sort of an advantage to be over 30 when traveling with him. I think people would like it; it has very pleasant humour, and many paragraphs with an idea one can pause over, at length.

  15. It's nice to have such a beautifully given recommendation to go on. I've never heard of the book before and now I look forward to reading it...once I get myself torn away from the Bronte's. I've just read Rebecca Fraser's and Elizabeth Gaskill's biographies recently, along with Shirley...now it's Agnes Gray, can't stop!
    xo J~

  16. A.S.Byatt is one of my favorite authors and I look forward to reading this book.
    Also, thank you for posting the beautiful images from the Pre-Raphaelites. I love the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic.
    I'm looking forward to reading the biography of Christina Rosetti this year.

  17. After reading your post and seeing the pictures I have ordered the book. Thank you



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