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Family Album by Penelope Lively

Family Album (original 2009; edition 2010)

by Penelope Lively

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399None26,636 (3.45)33
Title:Family Album
Authors:Penelope Lively
Info:Penguin (2010), Paperback, 272 pages
Collections:Your library

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Family Album by Penelope Lively (2009)

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Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
Astutely written.

This was an interesting study of a large family in rural England, living in an old, crumbling mansion. I loved the earth mother, Alison, devoted to her children, whose only aim in life was to be matriarch to a large family.
Her husband, Charles, was a somewhat cliched version of the distant father, surrounded by constant noise and hubbub, yet almost unaware of it. Somewhat ironically, he was an anthropologist, studying the interactions of distant societies and how they raised their children.

The six children also had the support of Ingrid, an au pair, who had been with the family for years and still remained, even after all the children had left.
This is a largely character driven novel, with the old house, Allersmead, looming large in the background.
Each person has a chapter of their own, providing back-story and further details, but do we really need quite so much information? As an audiobook, it was a bit confusing and I would probably have awarded an extra star if I'd been reading it rather than listening, simply because of the complexity of the family relationships.

As the, now adult, children come home to visit Ingrid and their parents, we start to see the flaws in the family dynamics. In addition, we are drawn forward by the knowledge that there is a family secret to eventually be revealed.
Not a gripping story but entertaining for the astute observations that Ms Lively provides. We are the fly on the wall as these nine people interact through the years. ( )
  DubaiReader | Jan 17, 2014 |
Predictable family drama. ( )
  Elpaca | Dec 1, 2013 |
I enjoyed the writing very much- but unfortunately these children/characters often come off as tiresome and whiny. Maybe as I just finished reading about a WWII POW I'm being a bit harsh. I look forward to reading her other books. She has good insight and a way of sketching out different personalities. ( )
  ErikaHope | Sep 9, 2013 |
To put this review in context, I read a galley. It was free. I liked the book quite a bit - enough to keep the galley, but not enough to spend more than $20 on a new book. Take what you will from that. ( )
  cat-ballou | Apr 2, 2013 |
Penelope Lively is gifted with the ability of acute observation, both of characters and the seemingly mundane activities of domestic life. Her writing is suffused with wit and sensitivity, and while the story is not plot driven, I was captivated throughout the read.

Allersmead, a large Edwardian House in Britain, is where parents Charles and Alison Harper raised their six children, Paul, Gina, Sandra, Roger, Katie and Clare. The family also employed an " au pair" Ingrid, who interestingly remains with the parents long after all of the children have grown up and left home.

Father Charles is a somewhat detached husband and father, busy writing books on other societies, including how such societies raise their children. He ponders on societies where " the care and supervision of the children is more or less a collective affair." " The kibbutz has always seemed to him to have been a an eminently sensible arrangement" , as have African Tribal systems" in which all women keep an eye on all children, and men get on with whatever they do." p 37. From those quotes, you can get a good idea of Charles parenting style .

In contrast, Alison is an " earth mother". p19 "For Allison, Allersmead is a kind of glowing archetypal hearth, and she it's guardian." " All she ever wanted was children, a house in which to stow them , and a husband of course" p33.

As the story opens all of the children have grown up and left Allersmead. Interestingly none have children of their own, and all live lives very independent of one another. The family is far flung , physically and psychologically. Only Charles, Alison and the au pair, Ingrid remain at Allersmead,. Paul, the eldest son who tends to run into trouble, comes and goes from the family home.

Gina,aged 39, makes one of her rare returns home with her boyfriend Philip. Philip,the product of a very ordinary two child family, is fascinated by the large family that grew up at Allersmead, and so the recollections of family life begin. That sets off the individual and collective memories of all six of the children who grew up at Allersmead, each one with his / her own chapter though written in the third person.

The dynamics of the family in the past, present and future are captivating. Yes, there is somewhat of a dark , shadowy secret to the family , which, as in most families, is pretty much universally known to all, but never openly acknowledged.

It's always the mark of a fabulous writer , like Penelope Lively, when spot on observations and wit can keep the reader glued to the pages , while seemingly dealing with the mundane.

5 stars ( )
11 vote vancouverdeb | Mar 18, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (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
First words
Gina turned the car off the road and into the driveway of Allersmead.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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