Making It Up by Penelope Lively – 20 Books of Summer 2024

Making It Up by Penelope Lively was first published in 2005. It’s one of my 20 Books of Summer.  This book is an exercise in ‘whatiffery’ something which we all indulge in from time to time I’m sure. What would have happened if I had taken another path in life, all those decisions that we take – or don’t take. It’s a really good read.

The blurb on the back says: Taking moments from her own life and asking ‘what if?’, Penelope Lively constructs fictions about possibilities and alternative destinies.

As you would expect she starts off with a story about her childhood, Mozambique Channel. Born in Egypt, she was caught up in WW2, when it looked like the Germans were going to be heading for Cairo, the civilians that could get on ships did so and sailed for South Africa, but the journey was a dangerous one.

In Imjin River the what if is about her husband who had been due to be sent to Korea as war had broken out there while he was doing his National Service.

Transatlantic is the one which spoke to me most I think as it is about leaving your own country to live elsewhere, and how that impacts on your life and experiences.

Other stories have the titles  – The Albert Hall, Comet, Number Twelve Sheep Street, The Temple of Mithras and Penelope.

These ‘what ifs’ are entertaining, but I found the explanations and the backgrounds which Lively has written for each one to be even more interesting.



8 thoughts on “Making It Up by Penelope Lively – 20 Books of Summer 2024

  1. I really enjoy this book, as you say both for the stories and for the insights into her life. Have you read her autobiography, Oleander Jacaranda? I’d read that first, so it was interesting to compare with her “what ifs.”

    • Lisa,
      No I haven’t read her autobiography, but I will try to get a copy of it soon. Thanks for mentioning it.

  2. Katrina,
    It’s so interesting to me that I have loved each and every one of Penelope Lively’s books, but have read only two. Sigh! This one definitely interests me. I’m adding it to my list. Thank you for writing it up! (I owe you an email–looking forward to it!) I’ve been trying to do a Work Catch-Up this weekend–progress is so slow due to super-high humidity and heat. You know! The usual complaints!

    • Judith,
      It is grey and damp here, I wish I could send some of it to you! Otherwise nothing much is happening. I’d be intereseted to know if your library stocks any books by Penelope Lively.

      • Katrina,
        Our regional library system has dozens of books by Penelope Lively, although not any of her children’s books.
        So, wouldn’t you know, I’m dying to read Lively’s very first novel, a children’s book, Astercote. It is right up my alley, and I’m keen about it because it reminds me of my trip to England in 1973, when our tour visited a site of a monastery. The ancient monastery was okay–but when I discovered that adjacent to this site there had been a village totally eradicated by the Plague, with mere remnants of gravestones, etc., I diverted from the tour, wandered separately, and immersed myself in that particular site. It was profoundly eerie–and because I was alone there, I had a profound “psychic” sense of the huge tragedy that had befallen this village.
        Much later, when I was doing research for the BIG book of my life (Women during the Civil War), I spent a day driving all over the incredibly huge Gettysburg battlefield with a Gettysburg history specialist, and, because it was just the tour guide and me, and we were alone, and I think because she was my age and a women’s historian, I was swept up by the profound psychic resonance of the incredible trauma that had been suffered there. The feeling that emanates from a place of massive trauma, and suffering. I could feel it.
        Have you ever felt that at a historic site? Would be interested to hear about it if you have.

        • Judith,
          I haven’t read Astercote – yet. I have definitely felt echoes from the past in some of the many historical places that I’ve visited. Even driving through Glencoe is an eerie experience, and the Culloden battlefield is tragically atmospheric. I’ll email you soonish!

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