Two weeks relaxing in Port Douglas required a special book to read by the pool and A.S. Byatt's 617 page novel did not disappoint.
Set between 1895 and 1919 the book chronicles the lives of members of the Wellwood family as well as the lives of the families of friends and others who come in contact with this eccentric group of people. Edwardian England is a major feature of the novel and Byatt provides an insight into life during the early twentieth century set against historical events occurring during these years. While some of the characters delve into bohemianism, Fabianism and experimentation with groups promoting anarchy, it becomes obvious that many of the characters, particularly children's author, Olive Wellwood, live in a world of fantasy with a reluctance to view what is really happening in the world around them.
Fantasy and children's writing weave a major thread throughout the book with allusions to the large number of children's classics written during this period including a number transferred to the stage. The adult characters live in their own world with extreme moral standards and appear oblivious to the affect this is having on the next generation. The world of fantasy is also, of course in dramatic contrast to the reality that many of the younger characters have to come to grips with during World War I.
As well as literature, the arts are also represented by potteries with a major part of the book revolving around the lives of a master potter and his assistant, puppetry both in England and in Germany and the Victoria and Albert Museum where some of the events in the novel take place. Relationships between England and Germany prior to World War I are also explored.
The many themes in this well researched, well written and compelling novel take the reader into a variety of worlds and situations as the complex family relationships portrayed unravel. A book to read when you have time to enjoy it.