“Family Album” by Penelope Lively

familyalbum.jpeg This is a new novel by the amazing British writer, Penelope Lively.

In “Family Album” we are taken into a big Edwardian house, set in a quarter acre garden, in which a family of six children grow, eventually leave home for fame and fortune, only to return again and again to the spot that made them what they are.

Lively concentrates on Alison, the rather blowsy, pink-cheeked mother, who will tell anyone who will listen that motherhood and home-making and cooking have been her passions and she will pursue them to the end. She does –with usually benign, sometimes disastrous results: both on her taciturn, writer-husband, and six children. There is a mystery in this brood, involving the au pair girl Ingrid, and it hangs over the household until the very end.

Lively takes the story into present day, when the girls all get jobs, don’t go in for full-time mothering and cooking, in fact barely start families at all. It’s a provocative look at everyday life, not only in the U.K.. One son lives in Toronto with a Chinese-Canadian wife, a daughter in Italy, another in Paris.

Lively has won numerous prizes for her twenty books of fiction and non-fiction. Critics praise her subtle understatement, also her “blend of romance and stinging commentary”. Perhaps what endears her most is her compassion toward her characters. That certainly happens in “Family Album”.

Review by Anne McDougall