I Have loved the cover of this book for ages and the reason I bought it only recently is because of the one line at the top that says “Booker Prize Winner’. It is an accolade that instead of spurring me on tends to give pause. Every single book that I bought on that recommendation has either been too depressing or too tedious or just plain undecipherable for me.
Surprise – Surprise! I really liked this book. The writing is simple and the premise is easy to understand. The chapters with excerpts from the ‘children’s book’ are just as engaging as the rest of the story. Of course, it is long and requires some patience but I felt it was worth the effort. And yet given its length, the ending seemed almost abrupt to me.
Central to the whole story is Olive Wellwood, an author who writes a separate book of stories featuring each of her children. That in itself is special circumstance as she is not really a hands on mother and leaves the nurturing and caring to her unmarried sister Violet, who lives with them and cares for the little ones. The children themselves seem to have a happy enough childhood, living in a world of fairy tales and running around the woods. Its the lives of the adults that add the sordid touch to the whole tale. The kind of society that the adults live in, is one that cannot easily be understood by a mere middle-class mentality. The adultery, the illegitimate children, the terrible incest and so on. Everything seems to be happening to the same set of people and they are able to not only function perfectly but are actual geniuses in whatever they do. The lesson to be taken away from this book is that to be a true creative genius one must be either sexually liberated or depraved.
However, the bit that surprised me and made me think was how the supposedly ‘free’ and very forward parents are still unwittingly bound by the conventions of their times as they are worried about finding money for their son’s education right from the beginning and yet completely fail to notice or understand their daughter’s desire to study and become a docter. What a powerful thing society is and in what mysterious ways it seems to hold us in fetters.
I loved the review by JENNIFER SCHUESSLER in the New York times. She writes all I wish to express much better and more poetically.