Tuesday, June 20, 2006


The Photograph, Penelope Lively, Viking, 2003, 231 pp

I read this one for a reading group discussion. I liked it much better than Making It Up.

Kath, former wife of Glyn, is dead, but the whole story is about her and her effect on the people she lived amongst. A photograph, found by Glyn, shows a side of Kath which none of these people suspected and now they must come to terms with a Kath they had never really known during her life.

This is a small, almost miniature scope for a novel, but Lively uses it to develop some very distinct characters who are yet universal as types so that they resonate with the reader. Glyn, the self-centered, distracted researcher, writer and professor; Elaine (Kath's sister), the super-organized and successful business owner; Nick (Elaine's husband), the dreamer who never does anything successful; Polly (Nick and Elaine's daughter), a rising, driven young woman. Each loved Kath in a unique way but none of them knew what was going on in Kath's heart and soul.

Thus, while there are humor and pithy insight and a bit of mystery here, the overall resonance of the novel is sadness. I was left feeling very sad for Kath and for all of us who are either insensitive or who suffer from the insensitivity of others.

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