A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
For most of my life the name Penelope Lively has meant The Whispering Knights, The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy, Astercote and The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, books I reread for years as a teenager. I was dimly aware that she wrote adult fiction, but none of it came my way, and the cover of her Booker-winning Moon Tiger was so boring I didn’t even open it.
Last week, because I’ve been living in the UK again for nine months and thought it was about time, I joined the local library. I prowled the shelves, noting with interest how many authors and titles I had never heard of, and noted with dismay how thick and heavy most of the books were, as I only had a bike basket to carry them home in. Ching! warned the ten-minute closing bell, and I galloped round the shelves scooping up titles at random. In went a Penelope Lively because her name was familiar, it was a slim volume, and because the plot sounded like a Barbara Pym.
Flumped onto the sofa after dinner, I began to read Passing On, and that was the end of any plans to do a bit more work that evening. I was wholly absorbed in this novel (it followed Moon Tiger in 1989) about the dictatorial influence of the dead Dorothy Glover that continues long after her funeral. Her middle-aged children keep discovering things that she has hidden, or done, or that they have done, or hidden, to the gradual disruption of their unhappy, restricted lives. I loved it, and am simply embarrassed that I have failed to appreciate Penelope Lively until now. I’ve since read her Treasures of Time which is, if possible, even better.
Passing On is also one of the rare novels that instantly recommends itself to book group reading. Its subtlety, its assured characterisation through action and tone, its perfectly balanced structure and forward action in the plot, all inspired me to mutter aloud about sending this as a present to an increasing list of friends and relations. Soon I was scribbling down book group discussion questions, even though I don’t (any longer) belong to one (am looking). So if you’re looking for a new book for your group, I heartily recommend Penelope Lively’s Passing On (that sentence structure sounds a little macabre), and offer these to think about:
Penelope Lively, Passing On (1989)