Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir

Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir

by Penelope Lively
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

The beloved and bestselling author takes an intimate look back at a life of reading and writing

“The memory that we live with . . . is the moth-eaten version of our own past that each of us carries around, depends on. It is our ID; this is how we know who we are and where we have been.”

Memory and history have been PenelopeSee more details below

Overview

The beloved and bestselling author takes an intimate look back at a life of reading and writing

“The memory that we live with . . . is the moth-eaten version of our own past that each of us carries around, depends on. It is our ID; this is how we know who we are and where we have been.”

Memory and history have been Penelope Lively’s terrain in fiction over a career that has spanned five decades. But she has only rarely given readers a glimpse into her influences and formative years.

Dancing Fish and Ammonites traces the arc of Lively’s life, stretching from her early childhood in Cairo to boarding school in England to the sweeping social changes of Britain’s twentieth century. She reflects on her early love of archeology, the fragments of the ancients that have accompanied her journey—including a sherd of Egyptian ceramic depicting dancing fish and ammonites found years ago on a Dorset beach. She also writes insightfully about aging and what life looks like from where she now stands.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
01/06/2014
At 80, Lively, celebrated British novelist and author (How It All Began), examines in five essays the many appealing and noteworthy facets of old age with her expert observer’s eye and eloquent touch. With the aged literally inheriting the earth in greater numbers, Lively is simply fascinated to be among this swelling, far-from-invisible demographic, and in her digressive, erudite, witty narrative, she looks at issues of mortality and degeneration, which slam everyone as they age, as happened to her recently in terms of back and eye problems, and left her widowed after the death of her longtime husband, Jack, 12 years ago; as well she delves into the marvels of memory as the “majestic, sustaining weapon” over the ravages of time. For Lively the realities of old age mean she has given up on traveling (“been there, seen that”) and vigorous gardening, both of which she once threw herself into headlong, yet she has intensified her reading, and in her mellifluous bibliographic essay “Reading and Writing” she returns to some of the formative works of her generation, and which have influenced her own writing, from Beatrix Potter to her beloved blue Pelican paperbacks. Overall, these reflective essays offer a wealth of riches for further study, and help to dispel many of the stereotypes about the aged, from the “smiling old dear to the grumbling curmudgeon,” which she abashedly admits are frequently ossified in fiction. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Dancing Fish and Ammonites

“Buoyant and propulsive . . . Dancing Fish and Ammonites is about growing old, about memory and history, about reading and writing. . . . Lively communicates ideas and experiences with flashes of narrative color: the tins of water in which the feet of her crib stood in childhood, to spare her from Cairo’s ants; the layout of a beloved garden; the sight of women in felt hats and gloves as they walked past the bombed-out rubble of wartime Britain.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Engaging . . . Lively’s writing shines brightest when her discursive remarks demonstrate the methods and preoccupations that have shaped her fiction.”
The New Yorker

“Funny, smart and poignant . . . Admirers of Penelope Lively's many fine novels will find the same lucid intelligence at work in her elegantly written ‘view from old age.’ . . . Memory, history, archaeology, paleontology—for Penelope Lively, they are all part of our individual and collective effort to retrieve lost time. She chronicles her personal engagement in that quest with wit and rue.”
Los Angeles Times

“A collection of well-written essays that draw on Lively’s past as she reflects on the present. . . . Lively notes the physical challenges of aging as well as the pleasures she’s given up; some with relief, others with regret. She also reveals a sly sense of humor. . . . Her lifelong love affair with books is the topic of "Reading and Writing," where she mines the quirks of her own personal reading habits and library (her fiction is kept in the kitchen) and the glorious news for readers that ‘The stimulus of old-age reading is the realization that taste and response do not atrophy: you are always finding yourself enthusiastic about something you had not expected to like.’”
Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“A gift . . . witty, gentle-humored, sharp . . . Throughout Lively is a keen observer and an engaging narrator. . . . Subjects that may, at first glance, seem random and somewhat scattershot take on the elegant coherence of a deeply satisfying conversation.”
All Things Considered

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-10-20
An insightful book of self-reflection from the acclaimed novelist--"not quite a memoir," she writes, but "the view from old age." Every few years since the 1970s, British author Lively (How It All Began, 2012, etc.) has published a slim, delicious novel, mixing sympathy and satire with a Chekhov-ian focus on time, mortality and wasted opportunities. Born in Cairo in 1933 and raised in World War II–era Egypt, she described her childhood in Oleander, Jacaranda (1994), but this insightful reflection on her life is not merely the second volume of her memoirs or, as she notes, even much of a memoir at all. Autobiographical details appear, but for the most part, Lively ruminates on a handful of subjects of universal interest on which a perceptive 80-year-old can speak with authority. She remains the person she has always been, encumbered by various indignities and disabilities but less preoccupied by death than concern that young people take for granted that the elderly are boring. Readers will share her amazement at society's seismic changes since the mid-20th century. When he learned of the 14-year-old's crush on a distant relative, an uncle warned that he was "queer," and Lively was mystified. Learning about Oscar Wilde during a theater outing, her granddaughter exploded, "I don't believe you! He went to prison because he was gay?!!" The faithful will recognize the author's love of archaeology, and many will keep a pen handy to record titles and authors, since reading is one activity age has not diminished, and Lively is not shy about musing over her favorites. Readers will share her relief that dementia has not made an appearance. Although they will long for her next novel, few will regret that she has taken time off to write this unsentimental, occasionally poignant meditation on a long life, mostly well spent.

Read More

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780698140141
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/06/2014
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
330,856
File size:
3 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Praise for Dancing Fish and Ammonites

“Buoyant and propulsive . . . Dancing Fish and Ammonites is about growing old, about memory and history, about reading and writing. . . . Lively communicates ideas and experiences with flashes of narrative color: the tins of water in which the feet of her crib stood in childhood, to spare her from Cairo’s ants; the layout of a beloved garden; the sight of women in felt hats and gloves as they walked past the bombed-out rubble of wartime Britain.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Engaging . . . Lively’s writing shines brightest when her discursive remarks demonstrate the methods and preoccupations that have shaped her fiction.”
The New Yorker

“Funny, smart and poignant . . . Admirers of Penelope Lively's many fine novels will find the same lucid intelligence at work in her elegantly written ‘view from old age.’ . . . Memory, history, archaeology, paleontology—for Penelope Lively, they are all part of our individual and collective effort to retrieve lost time. She chronicles her personal engagement in that quest with wit and rue.”
—Los Angeles Times

“A collection of well-written essays that draw on Lively’s past as she reflects on the present. . . . Lively notes the physical challenges of aging as well as the pleasures she’s given up; some with relief, others with regret. She also reveals a sly sense of humor. . . . Her lifelong love affair with books is the topic of "Reading and Writing," where she mines the quirks of her own personal reading habits and library (her fiction is kept in the kitchen) and the glorious news for readers that ‘The stimulus of old-age reading is the realization that taste and response do not atrophy: you are always finding yourself enthusiastic about something you had not expected to like.’”
—Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“A gift . . . witty, gentle-humored, sharp . . . Throughout Lively is a keen observer and an engaging narrator. . . . Subjects that may, at first glance, seem random and somewhat scattershot take on the elegant coherence of a deeply satisfying conversation.”
—All Things Considered

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >