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Family Album: A Novel Hardcover – October 29, 2009
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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
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. As the events unfold, the secret is a vague consciousness as everyone circles the truth. There is no big event, it is the slow skillful manner in which Penelope Lively allows this to become devastating.
Penelope Lively has become a favorite author. This new novel is not my favorite, but it kept me wrapped up in her reading for most of a day. Her manner with words and the development of her characters keep us on our toes. I love the fact that she involves us in her novels, we come to know the people and how they think and what they want in life. We can picture them in our mind's eye, and that, my dear friend, is what a great novel is all about.
Highly Recommended. prisrob 11-28-09
Consequences (Readers Circle Series)
Making It Up
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.
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.