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Family Album: A Novel Hardcover – October 29, 2009

3.7 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Employing her trademark skill at honing detail and dialogue, Lively (Moon Tiger) delivers a vigorous new novel revolving around a house outside of London, the sprawling Edwardian homestead of Allersmead, and the family of six children who grew up there. By degrees—in shifting POVs and time periods cutting from the 1970s until the present—Lively introduces the prodigious Harper family. There's Alison, the frazzled matriarch, who married young and pregnant, and persuaded her historian husband to buy Allersmead; distracted father Charles, who writes recherché tomes in his study and can't remember what ages his children are; and the children, who range from the wayward eldest and mother's favorite, Paul, to the youngest, Clare, whose parentage involves a family secret concerning Ingrid, the Scandinavian au pair. Lively adeptly focuses on the second-oldest, Gina, a foreign journalist who planned her life to stay far away from home until, at age 39, fellow journalist Philip goads her to contemplate settling down for the first time. With its bountiful characters and exhaustive time traveling, Lively's vivisection of a nuclear family displays polished writing and fine character delineation. (Nov.)
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"Exquisite.... The writing is slick and deliberate, with a keen observation of middle-class domestic life." ---Chicago Sun-Times --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (October 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670021245
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670021246
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,647,004 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A family that has come undone. Alison and Charles the parents, Ingrid the au pair and the six children, Paul, Gina, Ralph, Sandra, Kate and Clare all live in the lovely old Edwardian home they call Allersmead. Penelope Lively has given us a story of the lives of these nine people and their perspectives of how events shaped their lives.

We learn about the house, Allersmead, 'a gravelly drive, stone urns, lanky shrubs and, in the air, a redolent waft of hearty cooking.' Gina has come home to introduce her new love, Phillip to the family and vice versa. Alison, the mom, the earth mom, all she has wanted her entire life is to have children, and a husband, of course. Charles, the absent father, he lived in the house but he was absent emotionally and little is known about him. Ingrid, the Au pair, who lives happily with the family helping to raise the children and to organize the family. Paul, the oldest son is at home. He is his mother's favorite, but has never been able to do much with the life he was handed. Gina is a journalist who travels the world. She does not share much about her childhood, nor as we come to find out do the other children. There is something hidden, a secret that no one discusses. The children, all adults now, know about the secret, but it has never interfered with their lives, or so they thought. Alison, the mother is oblivious to any secret, her family is her all and be-all, and she does not recognize anything outside of her atmosphere. Charles is too busy with his research and writings to be bothered. Each member of the family discusses their points of view, alternating between the children and the adults. This is done in flashback, as they focus on what they remember. The children are gone, but there are no grandchildren, and we ponder why this is.
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Format: Hardcover
It was a joy to read this book after Between Here and April. It was such a good, though not great, novel. Maybe it reminded me of my own family in some ways or what my family is going through as the parents age, but I really felt a connection to the family, if not all of the characters.

I will say that I did enjoy the e-mails at the end. I did not think it fractured the flow of the novel. In fact it enhanced the plot. I guess my main issue was the way Lively presenting the concept of memories. I think it would have been better if the characters weren't so actively recounting the past as Peter did in his old bedroom or researching the concept of nostalgia as Charles was. But Lively's ideas about time and perception were thought-provoking.
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Format: Hardcover
Penelope Lively's new novel, Family Album, is about a large family that grows up in a large house in suburban London. The Harper family consists of six children, the two parents, and an "au pair girl" who has played an interesting role in family history.

The Harper family revolves around Alison, the mother of the brood, and Allersmead, the Victorian "pile" that the Harper family has lived in for 40 years or so. The father, Charles, a distant figure in the household, is sort of "there, but not there", to his six children. He's a fairly successful writer of non-fiction, often writing about families in far off lands, while moving through his own children's lives at a safe distance. He's often holed up in his library, which is off-limits to the rest of the household. He doesn't get involved with his children, other than with his oldest son, Paul, a neer-do-well who Charles often disparages.

Alison Harper is a "super-Mom". She's the one who wanted a large family and she has made a life for herself seemingly limited to raising the children and keeping the house. She's not the intellectual that her husband is and actually has very little communication with him.

In this melieu the six children - four daughter and two sons - grow up. All but one leave home as soon as possible, but maintain a tenuous connection with family and house. They return to the family home for holidays and birthdays and try, between themselves, to make some sense of their crazy upbringing. An upbringing that only Alison sees as "happy".

Lively is a good writer and most of the nine characters are well drawn. The book goes back and forth in time, depending on who's "telling the story". I found the characters interesting enough so as to almost wish that another writer, maybe one who writes big, fleshy, juicy novels, would take these characters and expand the book.
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Format: Hardcover
All Alison, overweight and a bit frumpy, ever really wanted was to be a mother and have a big family. She got her wish when, pregnant, she married Charles, who wrote scholarly tomes and locked himself in his study. Nevertheless they bought a run-down Edwardian mansion called Allersmead in rural England and proceeded to produce six children. Alison, a world-class cook, delighted in giving the children wonderful birthday parties on the sprawling Allersmead lawn, and elegant dinners for special occasions. Always there to lend a hand was Ingrid, the Scandinavean au pair, who was much more than a servant, yet not quite part of the family. On the surface it seemed an ideal existence for the children, almost blissful--but was it really? From the oldest Paul, who never quite found himself, to the youngest Clare, who had Ingrid's blond hair, they realize things are not quite as they seem. As they grow older they begin to question and as secrets are revealed, each child, now an adult, is profoundly affected when they learn the truth.
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