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The Photograph Hardcover – June 2, 2003

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (June 2, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670032050
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670032051
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.9 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,990,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lively likes historians. Her most famous novel on this side of the Atlantic, the Booker Prize-winning Moon Tiger, told the story of a popular historian; her latest narrates the quest of a "landscape historian" in search of what Proust called "lost time": the living past of his dead wife. Glyn Peters, a famous British archeologist, discovers a compromising photograph of his wife, Katherine Targett, sealed in an envelope in a closet at home. Peters specializes in excavating the long defunct gardens, buried fields and covered-over roads of the British landscape. Reverting to professional habits, he treats Kath's infidelity as a sort of archeological dig. The photo depicts Kath and Nick Hammond, the husband of Kath's sister, Elaine, surreptitiously holding hands on some outing, with Elaine and Mary Packard, Kath's best friend, in the background. Glyn decides to interview this cloud of witnesses, beginning with Elaine. Elaine is a successful, and somewhat cold, landscaper; Nick, her polar opposite, is a man one degree away from being a Wodehouse dilettante. Lively, who is never shy of letting us know her opinion of her characters (like Trollope), makes her disapprobation of Nick plain. Elaine, after learning of the affair, kicks Nick out. He takes refuge with Polly, their daughter, in London, and goes rapidly downhill. Glyn, meanwhile, has searched out Nick's ex-business partner, Oliver Watson, who took the photograph, and Mary Packard. Lively is always a discerning, keenly intelligent writer. This, for instance, is how she describes, in three irrevocable words, Elaine's pregnancy: "She is pregnant: heavy, hampered, irritable." Unfortunately, Kath, a demon-haunted beauty with little depth, remains unconjurable. Her insubstantiality and the much-foreshadowed nature of her death, not revealed until late in the novel, drains this story of its full emotional impact.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From The New Yorker

Scrounging around in a cupboard stuffed with three decades' worth of papers and academic debris, Glyn Peters, a recently widowed landscape historian, discovers an envelope marked "Don't Open—Destroy" in his late wife's handwriting. Is there anyone on earth who would obey such an injunction? Certainly not Glyn, who opens the envelope to find a photograph of his beautiful, feckless wife hand in hand with her sister's husband. Determined to understand his wife's affair, he delves into her past with a historian's tenacity and a good deal more interest in her than he managed to muster while she was alive. This search branches out to encompass a small circle of friends, all of whom have a share in the narration. But Lively doesn't stop there, and her characters' questions about the dead woman provoke questions about themselves and the roles they played in her life.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

It is beautifully written and the characters are very well realized.
I couldn't put this book down - I was too anxious to reach the end; I'd hoped it would pick up, but it just dragged on and first and last book by this author.
I think that kind of detachment makes one able to love in the active sense, not in the reactive sense, and to me that is the more real love.
B. Noia

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Stephanie Cowell VINE VOICE on May 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The book begins simply. A husband searching through his old papers comes across a photograph of his wife holding hands with her brother-in-law and understands they must have been lovers. Through each chapter, as he angrily interviews friends and relatives for details of the love affair, a question begins to softly arise. Beneath the accusations, the denials and the love of those he questions, something begins to whisper not so much "What's the truth about what Kath did?" but "Who really was Kath?" Kath who died young, who was such a free spirit, not pulled down by life. But in the end what Kath did or did not do is secondary; it is the truth of who she was, and that all these people talking and fussing and denying and befriending, did not know her.
I have looked about me many times since reading "The Photograph" at people I know well, and wonder what they allow me to see. In the end of this remarkable novel, all the busy characters seem to fall away and the spirit of the illusive Kath remains alone gazing at the reader. We wonder how we can assume we know someone so well, and never perhaps even after many years know them at all.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 8, 2008
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed Lively's recent CONSEQUENCES so much that I turned to this slightly earlier novel. It is equally absorbing, but I think the greater achievement. While dealing with similar concerns -- families, the power of memory -- it is more concentrated, darker in tone but richer in its observation of human nature, and ultimately the more satisfying book. Had Lively not already won the Booker Prize with MOON TIGER, it would be easy to see this novel as a strong contender.

The premise is simple. Glyn Peters, a sixtyish British archaeologist, comes upon a group photograph that includes his late wife, Kath. Details in the photo, and a brief note that he finds with it, suggest that there are aspects of Kath's married life that he didn't know. So, researcher that he is, he makes some enquiries. Consequences ripple outwards from there, affecting a tight group of people who had been connected with Kath. These include: Elaine, her older sister, a successful garden designer; Elaine's husband, Nick, a former publisher, now full of plans that seldom come to fruition; Oliver, Nick's former business partner, now running a desk-top publishing business of his own; and Nick and Elaine's daughter Polly, who had been very close to Kath growing up and is now a web designer. All of them remember Kath as a force of nature, stunningly beautiful, a magnetic presence in any room. Although there is little present-day action in the novel, Kath is very much alive in the memories of those who were close to her.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia K. Robertson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I looked forward with great anticipation to Penelope Lively's The Photograph. Not only was it chosen as a Today's Book Club selection, but most reviews have been very favorable. I must admit that I was a bit disappointed.
The Photograph opens with a landscape history professor and widower, Glyn Peters, searching through some old papers. He discovers a photograph of his late wife, Kath, holding hands with her brother-in-law. Kathy was an incredible beauty and a free spirit who seemed to have it all. But this picture shows Glyn that there is a Kath that he doesn't know at all, and it rocks his world. All of a sudden, he's confronted with a host of baffling questions. Was Kath really happy? Was her affair with brother-in-law Nick full blown? Were there other men? Who else knew about this affair? And especially, how does this change Glyn's perception of his marriage? He becomes obsessed with trying to find the answers to these questions, and the book reads a bit like a mystery. Each person Glyn questions (family, friends and acquaintances) is forced to revisit the Kath they knew and the relationship they had with her. And they each learn that this happy-go-lucky free spirit had a very dark side nobody took the time to discover.
The concept that one photograph can change the lives of so many people is a tantalizing one. Each chapter is written from the viewpoint of one of the main characters, and Lively has a knack for making her characters very real (although most of them weren't very likable). But on the negative side, I found the plot to be very plodding and deliberate in many spots. With only 40 pages left to read, it took me three nights to finish as fatigue got the better of me before my curiosity did.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Richard Cunningham on January 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a rather slow building novel. The central theme is changing perspective over a period of time seen through the viewing lens of an adulterous relationship. To complicate matters, the woman is involved with the husband of her sister. Or to put it symmetrically the other way, the man is involved with the sister of his wife. The author's use of revolving narrators is skillful, which gives the reader material to ponder.
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