Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Man Who Hated Children...

I have just finished reading Christina Stead's 1940 novel, "The Man Who Loved Children". This was one of those reads born from guilt... why hadn't I ever read any Stead before now? Stead (1902 - 1983) was an Australian novelist who wrote at least sixteen novels and four books of short stories. Stead is described as "Australia's 'lost' novelist", partly because of her travels and partly because of her belated success. "The Man Who Loved Children" is considered to be her best novel and although it was published in 1940, it wasn't acclaimed a success until it was republished in 1965. Taking the 56th place of the 100 ALL TIME novels list, Time magazine described the book as:

"one of the most truthful and terrifying horror stories ever written about family life"

Stead had an interesting life, and lived in America and Europe from the 1930s up to 1974 when she returned to Australia, she wasn't published here until 1965. "The Man Who Loved Children" is an auto-biographical fiction, based upon Stead's childhood. The novel follows the social decline of a family, and the painful interactions between the estranged parents and their six children. It was remarkably well written, I was completely absorbed by the narrative, but it was very depressing and ultimately made me question humanity. She must have had an utterly horrid childhood, the father is based off her own father and the step-mother off her own step-mother.

Even though it was depressing, am I glad I read it? Yes.
Could I have put it down and not finished it? No.
Do I ever want to read it again? No.

It was like reading "The Sound and the Fury", mixed with "The Power and the Glory", but on speed. It makes Faulkner's Compson family look like the Brady Bunch and the children's misery in Stead's novel is almost on par to the misery the whiskey priest endures throughout Green's paradoxical novel. I have moved on now to Hemingway's unfinished, posthumously released novel, "Garden of Eden", so far, much less depressing... but only so far... What are you reading at the moment?


  1. Sounds like depressing reading.At the moment Iam reading Victims of Tyranny by Brendan Whiting.It is also quite depressing as it is about the Irish Fitzgerald brothers who were sent to Australia and Norfolk Island as convicts.A very interesting description of the brutality of the treatment of convicts.Clare

  2. Thanks for the tip on an Australian novelist to read -- I'm afraid my knowledge only extends as far as Nevil Shute. So many authors, too little time. Most recently finished "The Imperfectionists" (Tom Rachman), a modern comedy-of-errors about characters in the newspaper biz; up next -- I hope as a Christmas gift -- Richard Holmes's "The Age of Wonder," a travelogue through 18th/19th century British science and literature (Mary Shelley, etc).


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