Start reading A House Unlocked on your Kindle in under a minute. Don't have a Kindle? Get your Kindle here or start reading now with a free Kindle Reading App.

Deliver to your Kindle or other device


Try it free

Sample the beginning of this book for free

Deliver to your Kindle or other device

Sorry, this item is not available in
Image not available for
Image not available

A House Unlocked [Kindle Edition]

Penelope Lively
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

Print List Price: £8.99
Kindle Price: £3.95 includes VAT* & free wireless delivery via Amazon Whispernet
You Save: £5.04 (56%)
* Unlike print books, digital books are subject to VAT.

Free Kindle Reading App Anybody can read Kindle books—even without a Kindle device—with the FREE Kindle app for smartphones, tablets and computers.

To get the free app, enter your e-mail address or mobile phone number.


Amazon Price New from Used from
Kindle Edition £3.95  
Hardcover --  
Paperback £8.99  
Kindle Daily Deal
Kindle Daily Deal: Up to 70% off
Each day we unveil a new book deal at a specially discounted price--for that day only. Learn more about the Kindle Daily Deal or sign up for the Kindle Daily Deal Newsletter to receive free e-mail notifications about each day's deal.

Book Description

A House Unlocked is Booker Prize winning author Penelope Lively's classic memoir.

The only child of divorced parents, Penelope Lively was often sent to stay at her grandparents' country house Golsoncott. Years later, as the house was sold out of the family, she began to piece together the lives of those she knew fifty years before.

In a needlework sampler, she sees her grandmother and the wartime children that she sheltered under her roof in 1940. Potted meat jars remind her of the ritual of doing the flowers for church. The smell of the harness room brings her Aunt Rachel - avant-garde artist, fervent horserider - vividly back to life.

In A House Unlocked, Penelope Lively delves into the domestic past of her former home, and tells of her own youth and the contrasts between life today and the way they lived then.

'Wonderful. Lively is brilliant and original . . . Every page of this book captures your attention' Daily Mail

'Remarkable, richly enjoyable . . . a captivating memoir' Helen Dunmore, The Times

'Engaging, curious, compelling, remarkable . . . Any time spent with Penelope Lively is a joy' Observer

Penelope Lively is the author of many prize-winning novels and short-story collections for both adults and children. She has twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize: once in 1977 for her first novel, The Road to Lichfield, and again in 1984 for According to Mark. She later won the 1987 Booker Prize for her highly acclaimed novel Moon Tiger. Her other books include Going Back; Judgement Day; Next to Nature, Art; Perfect Happiness; Passing On; City of the Mind; Cleopatra's Sister; Heat Wave; Beyond the Blue Mountains, a collection of short stories; Oleander, Jacaranda, a memoir of her childhood days in Egypt; Spiderweb; her autobiographical work, A House Unlocked; The Photograph; Making It Up; Consequences; Family Album, which was shortlisted for the 2009 Costa Novel Award, and How It All Began. She is a popular writer for children and has won both the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Award. She was appointed CBE in the 2001 New Year's Honours List, and DBE in 2012. Penelope Lively lives in London.

Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought

Page of Start over
This shopping feature will continue to load items. In order to navigate out of this carousel please use your heading shortcut key to navigate to the next or previous heading.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Penelope Lively has turned her considerable literary talent to non-fiction with A House Unlocked, a marvellous, meandering collection of memories inspired by Golsoncott, the Somerset country home occupied by her family for the greater part of the last century. By walking around the rooms of the house (in her mind) and looking at fondly remembered objects and furniture, she recalls the events, customs and people that together paint a slowly shifting picture of English country life in the 20th century. It is at once personal and social--a diary of the house and its occupants, and a memoir of the historical landscape.

While seemingly remote tragedies such as the Russian Revolution, the Holocaust and the Blitz all leave their mark, closer to home the house bears witness to important changes in the domestic and social nature of the surrounding countryside and its residents. Lively's memoirs are eclectic and fascinating, whether exploring changing fashions in dress, leisure pursuits, household management and gardening, or looking at the wider implications of changes in attitudes towards social class, women's role and marriage. While photograph albums chart the pictorial history of the family, a weathered picnic rug acts as a prompt for a wider discussion on the early hiking habits of the Romantic poets in that part of the Somerset countryside, the rise in popularity of rambling generally and the advent of the Great Western Railway and with it the opening up of the West Country as a hot tourist destination.

Throughout this rich and varied book, written in her inimitable, considered style, what Penelope Lively seeks to show is that, while many of the customs, fashions and attitudes of 20th-century middle-England have changed forever, many remain, buried just beneath a thin coating of modernism... and some changes are so seismic that they are almost overlooked in the rush to honour our past. --Carey Green


Wonderful. Lively is brilliant and original . . . Every page of this book captures your attention (Daily Mail)

Remarkable, richly enjoyable ... a captivating memoir (Helen Dunmore The Times)

Engaging, curious, compelling, remarkable ... Any time spent with Penelope Lively is a joy (Observer)

An ingenious memoir. The enchantment lies in its personal narrative: the portrait of a family and its progress through the twentieth century (Literary Review)

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1355 KB
  • Print Length: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Re-issue edition (27 Jun. 2002)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002RI9JGY
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • : Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #51,950 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
  •  Would you like to give feedback on images?

More About the Author

Discover books, learn about writers, and more.

What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very clever, personal look at the 20th Century 3 Sept. 2001
By A Customer
In this book, Penelope Lively has looked at the minutiae of her grandmother's country house in north Somerset. Taking individual items, Mrs. Lively has managed to show how the life in one house can reflect the social changes in Britain during the last century.
Various chapters focus upon war, religion, gardening, cooking, travel and so on.
Unfortunately, I feel that this book will not find the size of audience it deserves unless Mrs. Lively could be persuaded to translate it into a television series. That would require the house in question to be in some way as Mrs. Lively remembers it, and as the house is no longer in Mrs. Lively's family, this is unlikely to be the case.
Certainly, if you enjoy Mrs. Lively's fictional eye for detail, then you will not be disappointed by this book, the stories and characters within, and the history it amiably describes.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Review of A House Unlocked by Penelope Lively 1 Nov. 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Despite her 1980s triumph in the Booker Prize the name Penelope Liveley is hardly a "household " one for me. So I only chose to read this later work due to a very slight association I have with the Edwardian built house which she "unlocks", namely Golsoncott in the Rhodewater Valley, nr Minehead, Somerset.

In my view this book is like a fine wine, most suited for the educated palette, being notable for its stylistic quality of research condensed into steady cadenced prose. It is a series of essays - or meditations perhaps - on a number of subjects that occur to the now seasoned literary professional who was once a girlhood visitor to a largish Edwardian house with a garden/grounds managed over time by her grandmother and aunt (the late visual artist Rachel Reckitt). The subjects cover quite staid subjects, such as 19th century garden design, embroidery samplers, the changing dynamic of travel to the South West of England. Also historical ones relating to refugees both foreign and English who stayed at Golsoncott during the years in and around WW2.

For me the most telling meditation was upon English/European social identity, which for much of the existence of Golsoncott was still relatively stable and the book arouses quite strong feelings regarding the contrasting instability of the current age in this key respect. Familes today certainly are not distanced by alloted pew from the church altar according to their social level as in the author's recollected sources and it has indeed become almost impossible to quickly "place" a stranger as one of the author's relatives considered their expected right.
Read more ›
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars lovely book 10 Mar. 2011
This is a lovely book. Upon the death of her aunt and the sale of a much loved grandmothers home, the author uses specific items, and the memories they provoke, to springboard stories and anecdotes about how life has changed from her grandparents victorian lifestyle to modern day. It is perhaps a gentle pace, but not, in my view, "boring" to quote another reviewer, but rather a book to savour quietly and think about.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
4.0 out of 5 stars Now, then. Here, there 3 Jun. 2015
There are many ways to tell the story of the countryside and its relationship to towns and cities, which, in some respects, is also the story of Britain. As the historian, Richard Hofstadter, observed of the USA, so, too, of Britain: “[We were] born in the country and have moved to the city.” In "A House Unlocked", novelist, Penelope Lively, chooses to make Golsoncott, her grandparents’ home in Somerset, the central focus, and uses seemingly arbitrary objects and products from the house – potted meat jars, a needlework sampler, Reckitt’s “Blue” – to structure chapters. However, such is her remarkably sure grasp of everyday details of social and cultural history, as well as macro-changes in Britain that wherever one is in the story seems just right, even when the account jumps back and forth in time and the central house has been temporarily put to one side while Lively detours to examine a great variety of episodes or topics. These include middlebrow “countryside novels”, now long forgotten; rambling; main-lines and branch-lines; World War Two evacuations; fashion; and garden history. “A House Unlocked” is a highly intelligent history, theoretical only when necessary, and full of insights and common sayings whose significance are revealed when they are put into context: for instance, “If the wind changes, no one will want to marry you!” I look forward to reading her novels.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The book is an interesting overview of the changes that have taken place over the hundred years. The house, communications how it has changed rural and urban life of how it has bought them closer, earlier life was very different between the two sections.. country people were generally healthier with home grown food, fresh air, exercise. Urban folk did not have these facilities so their health and quality of life diminished.

The book is ideal for discussion groups with in-depth analysis of the variations of life , and the changing perceptions of various members of the different class system and how it slowly is becoming a more social upwardly mobile society through the more education system which is improved through the different governments but how still the private system in the majority of areas is still the most effective. Though in some areas of the country the academy,s and state schools can be better which is the parents aspiring wishes for their children and not necessarily a middle class aspiration. But the ballot box is used to get this, voting politicians locally and nationally to achieve this
How houses have changed due to the different circumstances, no silver cutlery, Tec people do not have time or inclination now people do not have time to be prepared to
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
I liked this book a lot. Very thought provoking.
Published 3 months ago by Mrs. R. Philpott
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Brilliant book.
Published 4 months ago by Robert Armin
5.0 out of 5 stars this is a great book.
If you are interested in the things of life, objects, this is a great book.
Published 8 months ago by Love design
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
Disappointed by the old-looking yellowed pages, but quite readable.
Published 9 months ago by mrs s james
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Using her own home as the background for the book, Penelope Lively has written a thoughtful account of the changes experienced by her upper middle class family during the first... Read more
Published 13 months ago by tipperary
4.0 out of 5 stars Social history more than autoobigraphy
Memories of her grandparents’ home, Golsoncott in Somerset, its contents and garden trigger intelligent explorations of 20th century events and the changes they brought to society... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Hils T
5.0 out of 5 stars Kindle book
This was a kindle book and as I expectedit arrived on my kindle without any fuss. It was an interesting read.
Published 18 months ago by valerie clingman
4.0 out of 5 stars A House Unlocked
I loved this book. It reminded me so much of a bygone era to which my mother aspired, but which as a family we never quite acheived. This gentler era is much missed.
Published on 30 Oct. 2009 by F. Norburn
1.0 out of 5 stars Boring
This book was so dull I couldnt finish it. The book starts with a description of the hallway and doesnt get much better. Read more
Published on 2 Sept. 2009 by Dr Phibes
Search Customer Reviews
Only search this product's reviews

Customer Discussions

This product's forum
Discussion Replies Latest Post
No discussions yet

Ask questions, Share opinions, Gain insight
Start a new discussion
First post:
Prompts for sign-in

Search Customer Discussions
Search all Amazon discussions

Look for similar items by category