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.

 

 

Metamorphosis by Penelope Lively – 20 Books of Summer 2023

I picked this book up from a library which I shouldn’t even have been mooching around, but I couldn’t help myself. I can’t pass an open library. Obviously it didn’t appear in my original list of  20 Books of Summer.

Metamorphosis by Penelope Lively is a short story collection which was published in 2021, the stories date from the 1970s to 2019. I have to say that I’m not a huge fan of short stories, but I do really like Penelope Lively’s writing, and although I have a lot of Lively’s books (some unread as yet)  I didn’t have this one at home. As you would expect though in a collection some stories work better than others,  or just appeal more.

For me it seemed like she saved the best one until last. Songs of Praise is about a memorial service for an artist who also happened to be a wife and mother of three adult children. With the children all giving their own thoughts on their mother and mentally reviewing their past, then the husband following them with his thoughts  and in a sort of novelist’s take on a split screen on TV we get a totally different slant on the life led by the whole family as his thoughts take an alternative turn from what he is actually saying.

However I enjoyed all of the stories although a few of them left me slightly bemused as for me the endings were a bit abrupt which left me wondering why. Maybe I missed something!

There’s an interesting introduction by the author, and the description on the fly cover says:

In intimate tales of growing up and growing old, chance encounters and life-long relationships, Lively explores with keen insight the ways that individuals can become entangled in history, and how small acts ripple through the generations.

 

from The Guardian Books section and Visit Scotland

It’s absolutely yonks since I shared a Guardian books link. I was particularly interested in The Books of My Life bit as this week it featured Penelope Lively, a writer I’ve really enjoyed in the past. You can read it here. I was interested to read that she too has been disappointed when re-reading what had been favourite books in the past, but sometimes she falls back in love with them again. I don’t know if I could be bothered with having another go though – considering how many books I still want to read for the first time.

There’s also a section on some of the books due to be published this coming year which you can read here if you’re interested.

If you happen to be more interested in what’s going on in Scotland you might enjoy looking at the Visit Scotland site. Even if you can’t travel here you can enjoy seeing what’s going on and maybe plan a trip for the future.

the 1976 Club

It’s the 1976 Club which is hosted by Simon of Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings.

For me 1976 has been a bit of a slim year reading wise, since blogging it seems that I’ve only read two from that year:

A Stitch in Time by Penelope Lively

Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart

I enjoyed both of those ones a lot. This week I’m reading a couple of short books by Ursula Le Guin, novellas really, A Very Long Way from Anywhere Else and The Word For World is Forest. These ones are both from Jack’s Le Guin collection, most of which are SF of course but the first one I mention isn’t SF.

I must admit that 1976 has seemed like a fairly bad year for publishing. I can’t say that I noticed at the time, I did work in a large public library back then, but it was also the year that I got married, yes I am fairly ancient, but I was a child bride!

The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively – 20 Books of Summer

The House in Norham Gardens cover

This is my second book from my 20 Books of Summer list.

The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively was first published in 1974. The setting is Oxford, a large rambling house at number 40 Norham Gardens, where 14 year old Clare Mayfield lives with her two elderly aunts. The 19 rooms in the house are stuffed with artefacts, nothing has ever been thrown away and the attic even has trunks full of her great grandparents’ clothes. Clare’s parents are dead and she has more or less become the carer for her aunts who are becoming quite frail. In the past the aunts had taken a lead in Oxford academic society and they have high hopes for Clare’s future which seem well-founded as Clare is a good scholar. However when Clare finds a strangely painted tribal shield in the attic it somehow preys on her mind. It must have belonged to her great-grandfather who had been a famous anthropologist. A combination of the shield and the money worries of running the household on a shoestring culminate in her schoolwork going to pot.

The aunts had previously agreed to having a lodger to help pay the bills and Maureen adds quite a bit of humour to the book. But more money is required and a young student of anthropology from Uganda moves in to the house too. John Sempebwa becomes a good friend as Clare shows him around Oxford and they visit museums, one of which exhibits tribal art.

This is a really good read and considering it was written 46 years ago it was way ahead of the times as it deals with British colonialism and the plundering of often sacred objects from other countries and cultures, something that academics are now arguing about and often unwilling to give up.

This book is set in winter and if I had realised that I would probably have saved it to read in winter, near Christmas maybe. It seems that Oxford suffers freezing cold and snowy winters. Poor Clare was often battling against snow and ice while on her bike. It helped cool me down during our recent mini heatwave.

A Stitch in Time by Penelope Lively

A Stitch in Time cover

A Stitch in Time by Penelope Lively was published in 1976. It won the Whitbread Children’s Book Award which isn’t at all surprising as it’s a lovely read. It was apparently aimed at readers between 11 and 14 but of course is for readers of all ages.

It begins with Maria and her parents driving to Lyme Regis for their summer holidays. Maria is an only child, her parents are rather old fashioned and staid introverts and it’s a lonely life for her. In fact she’s so lonely that she has conversations with inanimate objects with Maria supplying both sides of the conversation.

Her life changes completely when she becomes involved with a large and noisy family who are staying in the hotel next door. It’s a different world, but her parents are quite appalled by them, they can’t stand the mayhem, and Maria’s father can hardly recognise his daughter who is running around and having FUN.

Maria and Martin, the eldest boy in the family bond over their interest in fossils and spend time searching for them on the beach. When Mrs Shand the owner of Maria’s rental house discovers their interest she’s happy to show them her collection of fossils, but Maria is entranced by an old embroidered sampler on the wall, especially when she realises that the embroidered house in it depicts the house she’s holidaying in. Mrs Shand’s sister Harriet had embroidered the sampler and Maria feels that something bad must have happened to Harriet, she can almost feel her presence, and is it Harriet that she can hear playing on the non-existent swing?

I really enjoyed this one and it brought back memories of what it was like growing up in the 1960s/70s when loads of kids would pile into the back of a car to go on trips to the beach or wherever. No safety belts, just heaps of entangled limbs, laughs, shrieks and fun. We survived!

Spiderweb by Penelope Lively

 Spiderweb cover

Spiderweb by Penelope Lively was first published in 1998. I’ve read quite a lot of her books in the past couple of years and enjoyed them all, but although I liked this one for me somehow it lacked something, so I was a wee bit disappointed by it.

It begins with Stella Brentwood settling down in rural Somerset, she has bought her first home and is putting down roots, something she has avoided in the past, which is ironic really because her entire life has been taken up with anthropology, studying how other people live in more exotic areas of the world. She has always been an outsider but even as a student she never hankered after a husband and children, unlike her friend Nadine who had her future family life all planned out.

Stella’s closest neighbours are a bit of a problem family. Mrs Hiscox is a bully who is only happy when she’s raging at someone, so she rages all the time and her young teenage sons and her husband sigh with relief when she takes her bad temper outside the family. Stella is still observing human nature, just as she did in her career. When other people want more of Stella in their lives than she’s willing to give she realises that she has made a mistake settling down.

There’s obviously a lot more to it than I’ve written and as you would expect there are some great observations on human character, but I think that Stella’s detachment from society, colleagues and friends was a problem for me.

Recent Book Purchases

Books Again

I mentioned earlier that I only bought two books in Wigtown (Scotland’s book town – allegedly). I managed to get a lovely hardback copy of Dorothy Dunnett’s Scales of Gold, it’s one of her House of Niccolo books. I also bought a Virago, The Flint Anchor by Sylvia Townsend Warner in a shop called Byre Books which is hidden away behind some houses on the main street.

Jack had looked up an online list of secondhand bookshops in the UK. There was a shop listed in Gatehouse of Fleet, a very small town with not a lot in it, but a very wee shop on the High Street has a mixture of art and old books for sale. I managed (just) to stop myself from buying any of the art but I couldn’t resist buying three books.

Beth Chatto’s Garden Notebook. I don’t have any of her books but I used to read her articles and when we lived in Essex for a couple of years we were close to her garden, but I used to always just catch a glimpse of it from the bus to Colchester. She died just last week but she was a good old age, over 90.

Peeps at Many Lands is a series of travel books and I bought the Corsica book which was published in 1909. It was written by Ernest Young and illustrated by E.A. Norbury. Published by Adam and Charles Black. It has some nice colour illustrations.

I think the man in the bookshop thought that I just bought books with pretty pictures because the other book I bought there is The Englishman’s Castle by John Gloag with charming illustrations of various sorts of grand homes by Marjory Whittington. This was was published in 1944 and has that Book Production War Economy Standard logo on it. I have quite a lot of books published in wartime and I must say that although the paper was supposedly not the best quality they’ve all fared well over the years, much better than modern paperbacks anyway. They seem to begin to deteriorate after just ten years or so.

Incredibly there’s another bookshop in Gatehouse of Fleet although it’s a bit more difficult to find as it’s housed in part of an old mill by the edge of the River Fleet. It’s a lot bigger and has mainly old books, I don’t think there is much at all in the way of modern-ish paperbacks which suits me fine. I bought a book by J.I.M. Stewart called The Man Who Won the Pools. Also The Garden of Ignorance by Mrs. Marion Cran which was published in 1917 I believe.

The last one I bought there is called Recording Scotland, published by Oliver and Boyd in 1952 and has loads of lovely illustrations of places in Scotland by famous artists. Somewhere I bought a copy of Penelope Lively’s A Stitch in Time, one of her books she wrote for children.

On the way back home we drove along the Ayrshire coast and into Lanarkshire with the intention of visiting Garrion Bridge, an antiques centre that we hadn’t been to for years. To be honest there’s very little there that could be described as an antique but we did find some books there. So I came away with a couple by D.E. Stevensons – Five Windows and Sarah’s Cottage and also a couple of old but pristine orange Penguin books by the Bradford author Oliver Onions,Widdershins and The Story of Ragged Robin, but those ones are gifts for a friend who collects that author. We were so chuffed to find those ones.

I think you’ll agree that that was quite a haul.

My Blog’s Name in TBR Books

I’ve never done this meme before but lots of the blogs that I enjoy frequenting have been doing it including Margaret at BooksPlease and I decided to join in. The idea is that you choose book titles from your TBR pile which begin with the letters of your blog name. So, here goes – sixteen of them. I intend to read them before the end of this year.

TBR Books

PPapa-la-bas by John Dickson Carr

IIf This Is a Man by Primo Levi

NNicolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett

IIf Not Now, When by Primo Levi

NNot So Quiet by Helen Zenna Smith

GGuest in the House by Philip MacDonald

FFor the Sake of the School by Angela Brazil

OOld Hall-New Hall by Michael Innes

RReputation for a Song by Edward Grierson

TTroy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy

HHow Late It Was – How Late by James Kelman

EEdinburgh by Robert Louis Stevenson

WWinter by Len Deighton

EEverything You Need by A.L. Kennedy

SSpiderweb by Penelope Lively

TTrooper to the Southern Cross by Angela Thirkell

Have you read any of these books and if so where should I begin?

Passing On by Penelope Lively

Passing On cover

Passing On by Penelope Lively was first published in 1989. Her previous book Moon Tiger won the Booker Prize in 1987, but I think that Passing On is even better than that one.

The book begins with the funeral of Dorothy Glover. It isn’t a massive funeral as she had been disliked by everyone she came into contact with, for good reason as she’s a nasty piece of work. Dorothy was a manipulator and a domineering bully who obviously got a lot of enjoyment out of making other people’s lives miserable. Her oldest children Helen and Edward are in their late forties and early fifties and they’ve never been able to get free of her grasp on them. This has had a terrible effect on their lives, particularly Edward’s. Louise, the youngest of the family is married with two children and she managed to get away from her mother because she has her mother’s determination and bad temper.

Their father is long-dead but he had been a mild-mannered man and Helen and Edward must take after him. It’s a mystery to the ‘children’ how their parents got together in the first place. With Edward and Helen’s lives more or less being on hold until their mother’s death they both need to widen their horizons, and hope to enjoy new experiences. But will it be possible?

All through the book everything that Helen does is accompanied by a running commentary by her mother in her head. It seems as if Dorothy is still getting at her from the grave, which indeed she is because the will is not what they all expect it to be.

I’ve read quite a few of Penelope Lively’s books now and they just keep getting better.