By A.S. Byatt
688 pages; Knopf

If you buried A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book under a few inches of leafy mulch, it might begin to sprout—that's how alive it is, how potent its English genes. David Copperfield, Prospero, Jane Eyre, and others haunt this novel, poised on the cusp of the 20th century, in which a raggedy, talented kiln worker's son crosses class boundaries to practice the subtle craft of pottery; a lovely matriarch writes dark fairy tales in an old country house; children waste away from toxic family secrets; and ambitious women strain against suffocating tradition. Byatt is a master storyteller, but even more spellbinding than this novel's descriptions of nature and the supernatural is its intensely personal narrative of the Great War, where dreams of justice and mercy die hard.


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