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The Photograph by Penelope Lively

The Photograph (original 2003; edition 2004)

by Penelope Lively

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Title:The Photograph
Authors:Penelope Lively
Info:Penguin Books (2004), Paperback, 240 pages
Collections:Borrowed, Read but unowned
Tags:England, death, friendship, infidelity, marriage, sisters, fiction

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The Photograph by Penelope Lively (2003)

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Glyn is a widower who unexpectedly finds a photograph of his deceased wife, Kath, with a group of people. This leads to alterations in relationships, recriminations and adjustments in values. Each chapter is told from the perspective of those thought to be closest to Kath, which gives us a gradually evolving view. Penelope Lively is at her best in revealing the essence of her characters in a thoughtful, subtle way. As with all of her books, this one leads to thought-provoking questions. ( )
  pdebolt | Feb 8, 2013 |
She has become like some mythical figure, trawled up at will to fit other people's narratives. Everyone has their way with her, everyone decides what she was, how things were. It seems unjust that in the midst of this to-do she is denied a voice.

Oliver Watson's feelings regarding his deceased friend Kath sum up the theme of Penelope Lively's beautifully written novel, The Photograph. It is a novel about relationships - relationships between spouses, siblings, friends, and even acquaintances. It is also about the perceptions of each other that go along with those relationships. Do we ever see the complete picture of those we love, or do we only see them in snapshots, little snippets instead of the whole person?

The story opens when Glyn, a landscape historian, finds an envelope with a note in his dead wife's handwriting saying, "Do not open! Destroy." Of course, he opens it, and gets a shock that causes him to question his whole perception of Kath and their marriage. So he sets out to find out what really happened, and who she really was. But the story centers around Kath herself. We get vignettes of her from many different characters. The plot feels very small and contained, with just a handful of characters and their memories. And even though Kath is dead, you don't know what happened to her, which adds to a growing feeling that she is going to pop in at any minute (a habit of hers that everyone remembers) and explain everything. This feeling is strengthened by the memories of the living characters - instead of a simple flashback, they actually see her in their surroundings and hear her voice speaking to them, causing their memories to sort of merge with the present. It is as if she is actually there and is indeed trying to explain.

But as Glyn picks the brains of every person he can think of that Kath may have come into contact with, and as she herself inserts herself more and more into everyone's daily lives, the picture of Kath begins to expand. We start to get this sneaky suspicion that there was much more to her than those who were supposedly closest to her remember. And by the end, when most of the questions have finally been revealed, we realize along with the characters that it is the things we don't know about a person, the things that they, in retrospect, seemed to be trying to tell us, that make all the difference. ( )
  bookforage | Jan 10, 2013 |
The very British language, so well liked by so many, got in the way of enjoying this book. All the people in it appear less than likable, especially the husband of the main--long dead--character, who feels like he never loved his wife during her lifetime and does not hesitate to destroy her memory in everyone else, until--one surmises--he gets his comeuppance in the end.
  AnneliM | Jan 19, 2011 |
The tale of what happens when scatty academic Glyn finds a photo of his late wife Kath holding hands with another man. I really enjoyed it and thought the way the book was structured was brilliant. Penelope Lively hides things in shadowy corners of the narrative and only brings them out at the end.
  nocto | Dec 15, 2010 |
Because I love character-driven fiction, this was a perfect match for me. The story is told through the thoughts of six people who are either related to or friends of Katherine (Kath), a woman who died some years before the events in the book. A recently discovered photograph brings Kath back to the notice of Glyn, the widower, and through his investigation of the photograph the others begin examining long-passed events and motivations of Kath and others. My question from the beginning was why these people all seemed to have moved on so easily after her death, when she had obviously been such an important part of the circle of friends and acquaintances. Though I had to wait until the end for an answer, it perfectly fit the plot and characters. ( )
1 vote whymaggiemay | Nov 2, 2010 |
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Kath. Kath steps from the landing cupboard, where she should not be.
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Book description
The Photograph is an unflinching and unforgettable story of the many ways the past intrudes upon the present and the present alters the past. When Glyn, a landscape historian, stumbles upon a photograph of his deceased wife, Kath, holding hands with another man, his understanding of the past is "savagely underminede." Reading the past, uncovering and deciphering its strata, is his stock in trade, but now it is his own personal landscape, and the history of his marriage, that he must reinterpret. He veers from the emotional vertigo to an obsessiver need to know what kind of woman his wife really was. A taut and suspenseful psychological narrative, written in Lively's unmistakable nuance and insight, The Photograph s above all a profoundly moving meditation on the mysteries of time, and the instability of the past.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0142004421, Paperback)

Man Booker Prize–winning novelist Penelope Lively’s latest masterpiece opens with a snapshot: Kath, before her death, at an unknown gathering, holding hands with a man who is not her husband. The photograph is in an envelope marked “DON’T OPEN—DESTROY.” But Kath’s husband does not heed the warning, embarking on a journey of discovery that reveals a tight web of secrets—within marriages, between sisters, and at the heart of an affair. Kath, with her mesmerizing looks and casual ways, moves like a ghost through the memories of everyone who knew her—and a portrait emerges of a woman whose life cannot be understood without plumbing the emotional depths of the people she touched.
Propelled by the author’s signature mastery of narrative and psychology, The Photograph is Lively at her very best, the dazzling climax to all she has written before.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:44:49 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The Photograph explores issues that extend far beyond its London suburban setting: a woman's beauty and its collision with her own happiness, sisters' rivalry and lovers' cooling, a marriage in supreme crisis, and the cost of professional "success" as life unfolds.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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