Family Album

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Overview

All Alison ever wanted was a blissful childhood for her six children, with summers at the beach and birthday parties on the lawn at their family home. Together with Ingrid, the family au pair, she has worked hard to create a real "old-fashioned family life." But beneath its postcard sheen, the picture is clouded by a distant father, Alison's inexplicable emotional outbursts, and long-repressed secrets that no one dares mention. For years, Alison's adult children have protected her illusion of domestic perfection ...

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Family Album: A Novel

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Overview

All Alison ever wanted was a blissful childhood for her six children, with summers at the beach and birthday parties on the lawn at their family home. Together with Ingrid, the family au pair, she has worked hard to create a real "old-fashioned family life." But beneath its postcard sheen, the picture is clouded by a distant father, Alison's inexplicable emotional outbursts, and long-repressed secrets that no one dares mention. For years, Alison's adult children have protected her illusion of domestic perfection - but as each child confronts the effects of past choices on their current adult lives, it becomes evident that each must face the truth.

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Editorial Reviews

Dominique Browning
In [Lively's] haunting new novel, Family Album, the act of forgetting is as strange and interesting as the power of remembering…The real sadness at the heart of the story, the event no one faces for years, isn't meant to be a mystery that's dramatically revealed. Instead, it's the sort of thing everyone in the family knows about, in that vague, just-beneath-consciousness way that one knows what one isn't supposed to know. It's either ignored or denied or manipulated. It doesn't ignite a cataclysm, and that gives it its terrible power. It's contained, and smolders. It comes to light midway through the novel, as everyone circles around the truth—no, not the truth, just a truth, one among the many in any family's life. I don't think Lively intends for the secret to provide narrative tension. Rather, it's the slow, inexorable way everyone comes to acknowledge the event that makes it quietly devastating.
—The New York Times
Ron Charles
Penelope Lively's new novel comes wrapped as a celebration of old-fashioned domestic joy, with its heartwarming title, Family Album, elegantly embroidered on the dust jacket. But be careful; she's left her needle in the cloth. It's a typical move for this old master, who frequently writes about sharp objects buried in our sepia-toned past. Although this little book can't compete with her Booker-winning Moon Tiger or her fictionalized anti-memoir Consequences, it's another winning demonstration of her wit; every wry laugh is the sound of a little hope being strangled.
—The Washington Post
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.)
Library Journal
Alison wants the world to know that she presides over a large, happy, close-knit family. She and her distracted, uninvolved scholarly husband, Charles, have a brood of six who, along with Ingrid, the au pair, fill Allersmead, a somewhat worn, sprawling Edwardian English manse. Through the masterly use of emotional intricacies, Lively gradually reveals the simmer beneath the surface that belies the image of unity Alison has insisted on for decades, both within the family framework and without, to the world at large. Tradition and a sense of duty compel the adult children to return to Allersmead over the years, and it is through the mature observations of their childhood traumas (along with those of Alison, Charles, and Ingrid) that one learns the true cost of the shared and separate secrets that have informed their grownup lives as well as their relationships to one another. VERDICT No doubt frazzled mothers of much smaller families will find comfort in Lively's probing, challenging take on large family life and maternal competence. Lively's 17th adult novel is a wonderful follow-up to Gil Courtemanche's A Good Death. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/09.]—Beth E. Anderson, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
Kirkus Reviews
Lively (Consequences, 2007, etc.) anatomizes a sprawling but not especially enthralling middle-class clan. A lifetime of writing is evident in the author's capable handling of her character-heavy scenario, although there's a lackluster quality to this faceted family portrait. Alison and Charles Harper reside with their six children and live-in nanny at Allersmead, an Edwardian mansion and idyllic refuge that is itself a character in the story. Eldest child and family black sheep Paul, the target of his father's sarcasm and his mother's preference, grows up inclined to drugs and drink, almost unemployable. The other four girls and one boy successfully fly the nest and find their niches and/or preoccupations: Clare as a dancer, Roger a doctor, Sandra in fashion, Katie struggling with fertility and Gina, the high-achiever, with a career in TV news. The novel's title is reflected in its flashback structure, the narrative interspersed with snapshot scenes of significant interactions at birthday parties, anniversary dinners, seaside holidays, etc. The characters' contrasting perspectives and a fairly obvious secret at the heart of the family supposedly lend momentum, yet there's little dynamic to this chronicle of development and atomization as the children grow up different from their mismatched parents: he a disengaged intellectual/dilettante; she a gifted cook and earthmother. No member of this extended family emerges as three-dimensional. Cool, anticlimactic storytelling, lacking the Booker Prize-winning author's customary delicacy and depth.
From the Publisher
"Exquisite.... The writing is slick and deliberate, with a keen observation of middle-class domestic life." —-Chicago Sun-Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670021246
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/29/2009
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Penelope Lively

Penelope Lively is the author of numerous award-winning novels, including the Man Booker Prize–winning Moon Tiger and The Photograph. Her writing has appeared in many publications, including the New York Times. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a member of PEN, and a former chairman of the Society of Authors. She was awarded the CBE in 2002. Josephine Bailey has won ten AudioFile Earphones Awards and a prestigious Audie Award, and Publishers Weekly named her Best Female Narrator in 2002. Her native British accent has been used in many audiobooks and voice-overs, including The Wild Thornberries, Uncle Gus, and Disney-Dreamworks projects. In addition to her award-winning voice work, Josephine is involved in television, film, and theater. On television she has played parts in Robin Hood, A Tale of Two Cities, and Sword of Freedom. In film she was featured in Shadow Hours, Life's a Circus, and Corridors of Blood. Her theater experience includes lead roles in Betrayal, Otherwise Engaged, and Blithe Spirit. Josephine received her training from the Corona Stage School in London and the Tracy Roberts Actors Studio in Los Angeles. Josephine currently resides in South Carolina.

Good To Know

In her interview with Barnes & Noble.com, Lively shared some fun facts about herself:

"I came late to writing -- I was in my late 30s before I wrote anything. The years before that had been busy with small children, and I seem to have fallen into writing almost by accident. Since then, I have never stopped -- books for children to begin with, then a period writing for both adults and children -- short stories also -- then for adults only when the children's books, sadly, left me."

"It has been a busy 30 years, but because writing is a solitary activity and I like the company of others, I have also always had other involvements -- with writers' organizations such as Britain's Society of Authors, with PEN, with the Royal Society of Literature, and, for six years, as a member of the Board of the British Library (the opposite number of the Library of Congress) which I regarded as a great privilege -- what could be more important than the national archive?"

"I have always been an avid user of libraries; like any writer, much of my inspiration comes from life as it is lived -- what you see and hear and experience, but my novels have sprung from some abiding interest -- the operation of memory, the effects of choice and contingency, the conflicting nature of evidence -- and these concerns are fueled by reading: serendipitous and eclectic reading."

"I am first and foremost a reader myself. I don't think I could write if I wasn't constantly reading. I both wind and unwind by reading -- stimulus and relaxation both. I used to love tramping the landscape, and gardening, but arthritis rules out both of those, so I do both vicariously through books. I live in the city now, but feel out of place -- I have always before lived most of the time in the country: I miss wide skies, weather, seasons."

"Never mind, there are compensations, and London is a very different place from the pinched and bomb-shattered place to which I came as a schoolgirl in 1945 -- now it is multicultural, polyglot, vibrant, unpredictable, in a state of constant change but with that bedrock of permanence that an old place always has. I like to escape from time to time -- mainly to West Somerset, where we have a family cottage and I can admire my daughter's garden -- she has the gardening gene in a big way and is far more skilled than I ever was -- bird-watch, walk a bit, talk to people I've known for decades, and see the night sky crackling with the stars that the city blots out."

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    1. Hometown:
      London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 17, 1933
    2. Place of Birth:
      Cairo, Egypt
    1. Education:
      Honors Degree in Modern History, University of Oxford, England, 1955

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 18 of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2011

    It was a miss

    Didn't really care for this book at all. Everyone in the family really were not likeable or interesting. Read entire book, although I almost just gave up on it, but I stuck through it with hope that it would suprise me with some form of entertainment. I was never suprised.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 6, 2011

    Price

    This book is only $5.99 in store!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2011

    Excellent

    very intriguing and complex. can't wait to see how it ends!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted December 7, 2010

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    Posted December 25, 2009

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