It is the story of two girls, Penny and Primrose. It is set during the WWII, when children are evacuated from London to the country. The girls, who have nothing in common, other than this shared exclusion from the world, meet on the train and deciding to stick together, become friends.
At the estate, when the children are free to do as they please, Penny and Primrose decide to explore the forest. In it, they see, or think they see, a thing. A huge slimy worm-like creature right out of a nightmare. It doesn’t harm them and they never speak of it again. But this sudden exposure to the uncanny, the evil changes the girls forever. Each finds her own way to deal with the loss of childhood innocence till their paths cross again, and the women meet in the very forest years later.
“They remembered the thing they had seen in the forest in the way you remember those very few dreams – almost all nightmares – which have the quality of life itself, not of fantasm, or shifting provisional scene-set. (Though what are dreams if not life itself?) In the memory, as in such a dream, they felt, I cannot get out, this is a real thing in a real place.”
“I think, I think there are things that are real – more real than we are – but mostly we don’t cross their paths, or they don’t cross ours. Maybe at very bad times we get into their world, or notice what they are doing in ours.”
Ever since I read Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice, I’ve been in awe of A.S. Byatt’s wordsmithery. Even in this story, she paints vivid pictures with her prose. Her writing prods each of our senses. She has a way with colours, describing darkness as nothing but the colour of ink and elephant; contrasting the golden and darkly shadowed light in the woods with the light in city terraces, and naming toadstools, some scarlet, some ghostly-pale and some a dead-flesh purple. With a delightfully rich imagination, Byatt describes feelings that run over our skin, pricking and twitching; primroses that smell of thin, clear, spring honey without the buzz of summer; and Penny, in the woods, hearing a tremulous shiver in the darkness, and her own heartbeat in the thickening brown air. But the vivid detailing is, appropriately, only part of the charm.
Like in Ragnarok, in this story, Byatt portrays children just as they are: naughty and innocent, with more understanding than any adult could fathom, imaginative, curious and daring and having their own personal reality. The story weaves together themes of war, innocence, dreams, faith, dealing with loss, grief and finding our place in the world. It’s a coming-of-age story; slightly too abstract, perhaps, to appeal to all; but worth reading.
Byatt’s works are categorized as fantasy, but seem to me to be a genre-defying combination of magic realism, naturalism and gothic horror. The Thing in the Forest and two other stories from the collection, The Stone Woman and The Pink Ribbon, have a blatantly mythic, supernatural element. The Stone Woman is a bit too vague for my taste, but will be adored by geology and Icelandic mythology enthusiasts. The Pink Ribbon is about a man who is haunted by a sort of memory of his wife, who now has Alzheimer’s. The other two stories, Body Art and Raw Material, not fantasy nor horror, portray the tragic mundane of our lives with overwhelming honestly. Together, the five stories form another great read by (and, possibly, a nice introduction to) my favourite short story writer.
Reviewed for Peril of the Short Story – the R.I.P. Challenge.
even though I knew nothing about Ragnarok (the Norse Armageddon) and very
little about Norse mythology in general. Why? Well, firstly, it’s part of a series of books on mythology, of which I’ve read the first introductory book; The Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong. Secondly, well, it’s written by A.S. Byatt, who has grown to be one of my favourite authors, and not without
reason. Byatt is a brilliant writer, a wordsmith. Her prose is rather
poetic; a combination of apt imagery and beautiful sounds, which
together with the strong emotions that her stories invoke in you, leaves you
book a little too basic, as some of the Goodreads reviews seem to suggest. But
if all you want is a general glimpse into the Norse myths, without having to
struggle through a reference journal, the book is perfect. It is far from scholarly, and that, somehow is the magic of it. Throughout the book, Byatt maintains these careful inconsistencies, even with the names; because, she says, myths are always changing, there is no right or wrong, no accurate version. Where you’d have footnotes and in depth analyses of the different allegories, you have a thin young girl, who has had to move to the English countryside with a war raging around them, reading and shaping her world according to a book she loves called “Asgard and the Gods“. It draws parallels to our world, at every step, through the mind of that little girl, who likens her father being away bombing the enemy’s planes to Odin’s Wild Hunt.
Children’s Book is a novel by A. S. Byatt, which is loosely based on
children’s author E. Nesbit’s life. It was shortlisted for the 2009 Booker
book spans the Victorian era through the World War I years, and
centers around a famous children’s book author and the passions, betrayals, and
secrets that tear apart the people she loves. Olive Wellwood writes magical
tales for children. On a visit to a museum, her son Tom finds a talented
working-class boy, Philip, and they decide to take him home. The Wellwoods live
in a house as fantastical as Olive’s stories. Philip soon begins to realize,
though, that their happy lives contain more darkness and secrets than they
initially let on. The children grow up, not knowing what is about to come and
their personal struggles are overshadowed by the golden era coming to an
What I thought: After reading and falling in love with Elementals, a short story collection by A. S. Byatt, I immediately went and got this book. And I really wanted to love this book, ever since I saw the fabulous cover. I mean, look at that blue! But I felt like it was slightly overdone. It is long, and at times too complicated. It also has a very leisurely pace. The author takes her time describing every little detail, which I actually liked: my problem was that she has squeezed too much story, too many chunks of information into a couple of hundred pages at the end. In a way, it shows the suddenness of the children growing up, not remaining quite as innocent anymore or the effect of the abrupt end of an era – but it doesn’t quite work that well.
I do love A. S. Byatt, though, and she is a brilliant writer. She paints vivid pictures in your head, which you couldn’t erase even if you tried (I don’t see why you would want to, either.) The book has a bit of everything – history, politics, society and best of all, family. I have discovered recently that I love historical fiction, for that feeling it gives you, like you’re actually there – this book felt wonderful that way, specially when familiar names like Grahame and Wilde popped up. The easy flow of words and the deep characterization make this book much more special than Elementals.
I may not have loved this book as much as I wanted to (blame the sky-high expectations) but it is quite fabulous, nevertheless. So I would recommend this book, but be sure to save it for a some day when you have enough time.
you can experience everything that a novel has to offer and experience it in a
really short time. I appreciate the sense of fulfillment, as E. A. Poe put
it, which you get from reading a tale in a single sitting.
had never even heard of this fantastic author. The pages looked and smelled
rich and the book was small enough to fit into my tiny purse. I had already
found the book I was looking for, and this one, I picked without giving it a
thought. I had no idea what kind of surprise I was in for. The book is
beautiful and I was fascinated right from the first tale, I read the collection in
not more than a couple of hours.
of six enchanting stories about passion and loneliness and love and hate, each of which transports you into a new world altogether.
collection is called Crocodile Tears. It is about a woman who
escapes the pain of her husband’s death by running off to some place, only to
meet another person there, who is just as lost as her. It is abrupt and on the
outside, strange, but underneath it is just a compelling combination of inner
violence and outward detachment.
tale, about how love changes you. It is the story of Princess Fiammarosa, the
supposed descendant of an icewoman, who can only survive the heat of the day by
dancing outside on the wintry cool nights.
woman who loses herself in a shopping mall and that about an artist who finds
inspiration in a beautiful monstrous snake-like creature.
words and beautiful sounds to create a magical, poetic language which, together
with the feelings that the stories invoke in you, leaves you enraptured. It
is also a wonderful introduction to the author, before picking up her bigger
works. If you like fantasy, art or magical realism, it is a must read!