Whenever a detail could be selected at the expense of another one, Byatt will always prefer to buy both, and include the receipts: ‘Art Nouveau, the New Art, was paradoxically backward-looking, flirting with the Ancient of Days, the Sphinx, the Chimera, Venus under the Tannenberg, Persian peacocks, melusines and Rhine maidens, along with hairy-legged Pan and draped and dangerous Oriental priestesses’. There is always an atmosphere of the author reporting for intellectual duty, bristling with diligence. Her fictional world is exhaustively searched, but never quite seen. Some large novels – Buddenbrooks, say – are remarkably lithe, but The Children’s Book is rhythmically stolid. It proceeds judiciously: one character is described, then another, then another. One performance is followed by another.