Playing the game

October 4, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

It is hard enough, though not for the Booker judges, to like the historical novel nowadays, but harder still when that novel’s conception of characterisation seems itself antiquarian, as if Woolf and Proust and Chekhov, not to mention Muriel Spark and Penelope Fitzgerald, had never existed. Byatt’s formidable research commands respect, but it is hard fully to respect a novel in which Rodin, Oscar Wilde, Emma Goldman and Marie Stopes have walk-on parts, or that delivers itself of lines like: “All sorts of institutions were coming to life. The Tate Gallery opened on Millbank in 1896,” or “The rich acquired motor cars and telephones, chauffeurs and switchboard operators. The poor were a menacing phantom, to be helped charitably, or exterminated expeditiously.” Such moments, abundant here, necessarily have the air of what Kierkegaard called “playing the game of marvelling at world history.”

– James Wood on A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book (via TEV)

Comments are closed.