Set in late-twentieth-century England, this novel will maintain a tight grip on listeners' attention. As the author introduces the family estate of Allersmead and its owners - the Harper family - the story seems straightforward. But quotidian dialogue and description give way to the airing of a family secret and depictions of how it affects each family member. Josephine Bailey makes seemingly effortless switches between characters. In particular, she gives distinct voices to the children and, as the novel progresses, believably changes their voices as they grow up. Bailey also portrays a large number of characters with a variety of accents. Overall, she fully captures the spirit of Lively's novel.
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 legion of fans. 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.
©2009 Penelope Lively; (P)2009 Tantor
"With its bountiful characters and exhaustive time traveling, Lively's vivisection of a nuclear family displays polished writing and fine character delineation." (Publishers Weekly)
IF you're into plot, this probably isn't for you. I kept waiting for some big revelation or plot development that never occured. It's very well-written and mostly a character study of a family and its individual members. It looks at several different events in the life of the family through eyes of various family members. (I kept expecting the events to be revealed to be "bigger" than they actualy were).
The book starts slowly and the English setting and English narrator voice initially put me off. As the author visits and revisits the personality of each of the six children, their parents, and the live-in governess, however, each revisitation is more penetrating and revealing. The unhappy children of this large family (by English standards) prove to be strong, independent people who are not as unhappy as they pretend. Their fear of having children seems to be their only shared characteristic. The story ends somewhat abruptly, for my taste, but I think this book is every bit as good as the author's earlier book, The Photograph.
I listened to half of the book and did not come across a single character I cared about. They were rather unlikeable and predictable, and I did not care to be a part of their dysfunction any longer.
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