We writers are cannibals. We sink our teeth into the humanity surrounding us, ripping off chunks for what we need. Even as we change names and alter situations, we are feeding on life around us. It’s inevitable; it’s who we are.
How terrible, then, the crimes of a mother who writes and writes, and uses all about her as fodder. A self-made author who has managed to escape poverty largely through the success of her fiction and who gifts her children with their own personal fables, which expand from year to year. How inevitable and awful, then, as she draws upon these stories, her children’s books, to feed both her family and her creative impulses, turning a blind eye to the cost as the world around her becomes both more open and more fierce.
Such is the core tragedy at the heart of A.S. Byatt‘s The Children’s Book, a remarkable novel that manages to examine the nature of creativity, family, society, and a dozen other topics at the dawning of the modern age. At 688 pages, the book isn’t a light read and has more (and less obvious) layers than her 1990 Booker Award winner, Possession. But it is a hypnotically compelling work, mixing ideas and history with characters of immediacy and heart.