The Children’s Book
A. S. Byatt
As in her Booker Prize–winning novel, Possession, here Byatt has constructed a complete and complex world, a gorgeous bolt of fiction, in this case pinned to British events and characters from the 1870s to the end of the Great War. The central character, a writer of children’s books (who bears a few similarities to the author E. Nesbit), lives with her prodigious family—husband, sister, and seven children—on a romantically meadowed and wooded piece of Kentish property. Of course, real life is more complicated and less child-friendly than the fairy tale she struggles to maintain, and, as in a fairy tale, the characters’ true identities can be a surprise. A tangle of secondary families ranging over rich historical territory—the rise of Fabianism and feminism, the Arts and Crafts protest against industrialism, the new recognition of children as something other than short adults—provides plenty of meaty story. But the magic is in the way Byatt suffuses her novel with details, from the shimmery sets of a marionette show to clay mixtures and pottery glazes.
Some of the Dead Are Still Breathing
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
This volume of gonzo musings completes the “accidental trilogy” begun in Blood Orchid and continued in Blues for Cannibals, offering more scorched-earth prophesying by the hard-bitten Bowden, a journalistic iconoclast in the tradition of Hunter S. Thompson, Edward Abbey, and James Agee. Surveying the lethal recent past (Hurricane Katrina, Bali bombings, ecological collapse) with a noirish eye to the future, he wonders, “How can a person live a moral life in a culture of death?” His engaged (though not always engaging) search for an answer amounts to an associative elegy—equal parts reflection, reportage, declamatory fervor, and lopsided natural history—that is as urgently poetic as it is maddeningly discursive.