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Family Album by Penelope Lively (2009)



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I have enjoyed other novels by Lively but can't count this one among them. The topic was insubstantial: a family built on what the mother believed to be the ideal family, large, happy, close, with lots of traditions to maintain and keep them in touch with her stereotypical idea of a model family, which of course this family is definitely not. While most of the characters were unpleasant and without depth, the father, who had very little presence at all in the story, still managed to be the most unpleasant. While reading this I was reminded of the type of people I dislike most. But it was Lively's writing style, harsh and staccato with short abrupt sentences, that condemned this book for me. ( )
  VivienneR | Jan 4, 2017 |
Was disappointed with this book. Not sure why I even read it, it was so boring. You would be reading the book in a narrative voice and then all of a sudden it would be in the first person of one of the characters. It was very disjointed and just blah. ( )
  MHanover10 | Jul 10, 2016 |
families, who'd have them. A large family dynamic well portrayed. ( )
  Helenliz | May 30, 2016 |
At first I wasn't at all sure whether I would continue for there was something flat about the narration which was irksome, but somewhere between 50-100 I became more interested in what Lively was trying to do, explore the boundaries between individuals and the family they find themselves part of, what brings a family together, what sends them scurrying. I find myself in agreement with the reviewers who disliked it, but also in agreement with the reviewers here who liked it, which makes little sense, but there you have it. Alison always wanted a 'family'. Regard it the same way as someone else might wish to be a poet or a priest. Not so much a career as a vocation (although one of the children describes it as a career). I would say Alison's fixation on having a Family is ... never adequately explored..... anyhow, she finds her victim, Charles, a passive and removed man, and the house, and then the babies come. And then, as happens, the babies all start growing up, becoming unmalleable and uncooperative. Then they fly the coop. In this family (in which the characters say too often to one another what an 'odd' family they are) there are secrets, one rather big one. These are mixed in with trivial 'secrets' (what the six children did when they went to the cellar, who pushed whom in a scrum during an Easter egg hunt.....) The mixing of the real with such trivialities was jarring as it said, to me, that Lively wasn't making a distinction. Likewise sometimes the story veered off in a Binchy-ish direction but at others seemed to be striving for something much higher.... almost Woolfish, as Lively describes the century of life in the house. Overall, it was entertaining and not without interest. I won't rush out to read more Lively, but I wouldn't scorn one if it came my way. ***1/2 ( )
1 vote sibyx | May 24, 2016 |
Okay, a family with six children, an aloof father and a mother who seems almost obsessed with creating a facade of happy family life. Add an au-pair who never left the family, even when the children are grown up. And of course there is a dark family secret that is never mentioned, but everybody seems to know about it. Sounds interesting.
But I was disappointed by this book. The characters were stereotypical and missed depth. The constant changes of narrator and timeline made it impossible to get into the book, to identify oneself with one of the characters or even to care for one of them. The complex relationship between family members is not fully explained. A lot of questions remained without an answer.
The title of the novel was well chosen. The family is presented in snapshots of their life, it feels almost like skimming through an album of family pictures.
I liked the writing style, though. I will definately try another book by this author. Many of them got better reviews than this one. ( )
  Ellemir | Feb 1, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
In 16 distinct chapters, from various, smoothly spliced points of view, Lively moves back and forth through the family's history, filling in events that explain apparently casual references....

The success of these chapters is uneven, but several of them are brilliant, full of glancing humor and spot-on truths about the way families maintain the peace through a process of willful ignorance and disciplined forgetfulness.
added by zhejw | editWashington Post, Ron Charles (Nov 18, 2009)
Lively immediately plunges us into an entirely convincing world of bustling family life, yet at the same time keeps her distance with lethally sharp observations, and a tendency to watch more effectively than to inhabit. The novel follows no linear progression and has little plot: it swirls between memories, hints, and snapshots of later life, yet it is unflaggingly compelling....

Family Album manages to intrigue and delight, and to keep the reader captivated, racing along without obvious direction but with a very tight sense of purpose. The narrative is distanced to an extreme degree: we are reading an anthropological study of the English middle classes from the 1970s to the present, their traditions and tribal habits causing winces of delighted, uncomfortable recognition.
added by zhejw | editThe Guardian, Joanna Briscoe (Aug 8, 2009)
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To Kay and Stephen
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Gina turned the car off the road and into the driveway of Allersmead.
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Book description
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 readership. 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.
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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 outbursts, and long-repressed secrets that no one dares mention.… (more)

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