Not long ago (May 2011), my book club read–I should say, tried to read–A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book. No one in the group finished it. I think I got the farthest, to about page 100. I’m not out to get A.S. Byatt. At one point in my reading life, I considered myself a big fan. She was the very kind of writer I wanted to be: well read and knowledgeable about many fields of study, literary, feminist, serious, rich in ideas. Possession is great fun to read, accessible enough, kind of nerdy-cool–in a cashmere sweaters, suede elbow patches, dusty attics, research is sexy kind of way. While Byatt is certainly an intellectual sort of writer, in books like Angels and Insects she’s able to mash her magpie mind with a romantic, ornate sensibility. I read and loved Babel Tower, but have found her last three books, The Biographer’s Tale, A Whistling Woman and The Children’s Book, impossible to get into. Is it me, or the books? The Children’s Book was shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, so obviously someone likes it. But the book club just couldn’t find enough to compel us to continue reading. On the whole, the complaints were too many characters, a lack of interesting plots (we found Philip’s story interesting but too sporadic), and a failure to render compellingly the world she was imagining. For my part, I suspected she had a grand plan, was laying the foundation for some hefty themes, but couldn’t shake the feeling that she was doing all this at the expense of STORY. Has Byatt forgotten that story, and if not story, then character, is king?