Run, don't walk, to pick up a copy of A.S. Byatt's latest, The Children's Book, which is the very best thing that Byatt has written since her Booker-winning novel Possession. I've been wanting to rave about this book for months (the English edition came out in May), and finally the American release date for The Children's Book is at hand.
Where Possession looked at the lives of writers and artists in Victorian England, The Children's Book examines the lives of writers, artists, puppeteers and political thinkers in the Edwardian era, and is richly laced (like the previous book) with themes drawn from myth and fairy tales. The central character, Olive Wellwood,E. Nesbit -- who was as famous in her day for her Fabian politics, unconventional household, and passionate friendships with the likes of George Bernard Shaw as she was for her popular children's books (The Railway Children, The Five Children and It, etc.). If you're familiar with this period of British literary history, one of the keen pleasures of reading Byatt's novel is guessing the real-life influences behind each character...but even if you're not, it's a splendid read, with a gripping story, a large and colorful cast, and magical elements laced throughout.
As a follow-up book, I highly recommend Julia Brigg's biography, Edith Nesbit: A Woman of Passion. Truth may not always be stranger than fiction -- but in this case it's every bit as fascinating.