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Family Album
     

Family Album

3.1 15
by Penelope Lively
 

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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

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.

Penelope Lively's novels of history, memory, and character have earned her a loyal legion of fans. Like Ian McEwan's Atonement, this novel is a measured, thoughtful look at how events of the past, both small and large, seen and unseen, deeply inform character and the present. Quietly provocative and disturbing, Family Album is a highly nuanced work that showcases a master of her craft.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Exquisite.... The writing is slick and deliberate, with a keen observation of middle-class domestic life." ---Chicago Sun-Times
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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400113521
Publisher:
Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date:
11/16/2009
Edition description:
Unabridged CD
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 6.50(h) x 1.10(d)

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Exquisite.... The writing is slick and deliberate, with a keen observation of middle-class domestic life." —-Chicago Sun-Times

Meet the Author

Penelope Lively is the author of numerous award-winning novels, including the Man Booker Prize–winning Moon Tiger.

British actress and narrator Josephine Bailey has won ten AudioFile Earphones Awards and a prestigious Audie Award, and Publishers Weekly named her Best Female Narrator in 2002.

Brief Biography

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

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Family Album 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
allison dougherty More than 1 year ago
This book is only $5.99 in store!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
very intriguing and complex. can't wait to see how it ends!!
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