I am at an early stage of this long novel, but I wanted to quickly post because I think it is just the sort of thing that several on my f-list would enjoy. It is elaborately and densely decorated, like a piece of embroidery. A key theme of the book is the contrast between luxuriant richly decorated objects and the poverty of most people. I think one aspect of what she is saying is that the opulence, progressivism, archaism and elaboration of Victorian art reflect the rich consciousness of Victorian people, who therefore lived in a world which was not quite as - well, 'Victorian' - as we like to portray them. Instead it was dense with imagination, rooted in folklore, and also darkened by the disease, death and misery of childhood.
I am listening to it on audio, which is very enjoyable. The reading is lovely and the various class backgrounds and social strata are very cleverly and carefully distinguished by the reader.
My only caveat is that compared to Wolf Hall and The Little Stranger (both of which are also about talented working class outsiders invading the upper echelons) I feel that AS Byatt's instinctive location is with the upper echelons, while I felt Mantel and Waters were more democratic in their sympathies. Don't get me wrong - the sympathies of AS Byatt are progressive and generous, but the centre of gravity is with the privileged or so it seems to me. This may weaken as the story goes on.