Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Photograph

The Photograph is one of Penelope Lively's novels. I love the way Lively writes and have several of her books on my shelves. She spends much attention on the effect of the past on the present and the place of memory in our lives. This is a quick, easy read, but thought-provoking.

from the back of the book:
It opens with a snapshot: Kath, at an unknown gathering, hands clasped with a man not her husband, their backs to the camera. Its envelope is marked DO NOT OPEN - DESTROY. But Kath's husband does not heed the warning. The mystery of the photograph, and of Kath's recent death, propels him on a journey of discovery in which he must peel back layers of their lives. The unfolding tale reveals a right web of secrets - within marriages, between two sisters, and at the end of an affair. Kath, with her mesmerizing looks and casual ways, moves like a ghost through the thoughts and memories of everyone who knew her: Glyn, her husband, past his lusty, professorial prime; her remorselessly competent sister Elaine, a garden designer married to ne'er-do-well Nick; and their daughter, Polly, beloved of Kath, who oscillates between home, family, and the tumultuous new era she inhabits.

The Photograph, with Penelope Lively's signature mastery of narrative and psychology, brilliantly explores a woman's beauty and its collision with everything from her own happiness, to the cost of professional "success." It is this award-winning author at her very best, the dazzling and intriguing climax to all she has written before.
The Guardian review says,
The Photograph sets out to cover familiar ground, yet as it gains momentum it becomes astonishingly bleak. Centring on the absence of someone who seems "least likely to be dead", the book is chilled by the baffling capriciousness of death. Lively pits the outrage of dying young against the anguish of growing old. In her previous work, old age has seemed a time of mature reflection. Here she presents characters hurtling towards 60, furious at their inability to slam on the brakes.
Kirkus Reviews says, "Lively handles this oddly unremarkable story skillfully, building a teasing fragmentary portrait of Kath from others’ memories of her—while clearly developing her manifest theme: the unknowability and mystery of other people’s lives." There is a reading group guide here.


  1. It sounds very interesting. I put it on my wishlist at amazon.

    1. i do like her writing. i don't often see her books on the bookstore shelves, but i pick them up when i find them.