I borrowed this book from my English curriculum teacher and seeing as how I loved the other book I borrowed from her, I had high hopes for this one. The cover made me think that it would have a fantasy bent to it, yet she also mentioned it was about children and took place in England so I figured maybe it would be a fantasy/drama/adventure crossover of some kind. To be honest, I spent the entire first half of the book wondering what I had gotten myself into.
I have never been the kind of person who can just give up on a book, but I kept considering it over and over. It’s a very sizable book and took a lot of time to read, so I kept hoping that the next chapter would get better. Or maybe the next chapter. I very slowly got to the middle of the book, forcing myself to continue waking through the text. By that time, however, I was wondering why on earth the novel had been a finalist for the Man Booker Prize.
The problem was that the text was so dense with with discussion of politics, finance, drama, and art (particularly pottery), techniques and methods that the story was indistinguishable from all the unnecessary information. There is no denying that the prose was superior, but the text was so excessive that I felt the story was lost.
Underlying all the detail was the story of a family and its various branches, as the children mature and grow in the years preceding WWI. It wasn’t until after the children began to leave childhood and move on into life, establishing careers and starting families, discovering they people they would be come, through trial and error, that I actually began to see the true genius behind this novel.
In the first half of the book I just couldn’t understand the purpose if it. I couldn’t see where the plot was going or what the story was trying to accomplish as it just seemed to relate daily, ordinary and uneventful life of these families. Quite frankly, it was dull, unmoving and difficult to get through because of all the extra information about their society that I really wasn’t interested in. When the children grew up, however, I became invested in the people that those children were becoming. I was upset and sometimes horrified by their mistakes, and I was joyful over their triumphs.
In the end, the novel was a very close look at self realization and coming of age that was intimately revealing and real. All secrets were brought into the open, explored and the effects on the family examined so that by the end of the novel you understood exactly the character’s motivations and feelings. By the end of the novel I understood exactly what what the author was trying to accomplish, I just wish it wasn’t so painful to get there.
By all means, read this novel, especially if you have an interest in art, drama, pre-war politics and/or finance. If you are interested in these things, you will ultimately appreciate the first half of the novel much more than I did.
You can find this novel here: The Children’s Book