When I saw that A.S. Byatt, author of Possession (which I absolutely loved), had a new book coming out, I rushed right to Lemuria to get it in hardback. However, once I got the book home, I found it much easier to put down than Possession.
Here's the skinny: The Children's Book is peopled with a large array of characters. First, the reader is introduced to the Wellwood family. Olive, a successful children's author, and Humphrey, a banker, tend to a boisterous group of children at an idyllic estate. We also meet Benedict Fludd, a celebrated potter, and his assorted family. And we also meet a motley group of other key characters - puppeteers, schoolmates, mistresses, museum directors, etc. In fact, there are so many characters, whose story lines are picked up and dropped again throughout the book, that it is difficult to care incredibly deeply about any of them. I think the book would have benefitted from a slightly narrower character focus.
Byatt's writing is, as always, lush with description and detail. However, I think she almost goes overboard with the research sometimes. Some sections began with several pages of "setting the cultural/political scene," which felt to me more like a display of her contextual knowledge rather than elegant backgrounding.
And, honestly, the plot just doesn't move along. The book is more of a character study, and a detailed view of a certain time and place, than anything. And while that is perfectly acceptable on its own merits, it's quite different from the gripping revelation found in Possession. Though not without its own charms, the new novel is a different kind of book altogether.
Overall, though I did find parts of the book enjoyable, it's slow going to read, and the payoff may not be worth it. Might be one to skip.