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Public Lives Paperback – 29 Aug 1996

4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (29 Aug. 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140244018
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140244014
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 1.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,164,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author





Melissa Benn's first novel 'Public Lives' was described by Margaret Forster as ' remarkably sophisticated' for a first. (Amazon reviewers were just as kind...) Her second novel 'One of Us' was shortlisted for a British Book Award. Benn also writes on contemporary themes, as in 'Madonna and Child: Towards a New Politics of Motherhood '(1998),   'School Wars: The Battle for Britain's Education' (2011)  and 'What Should We Tell Our Daughters? The Pleasures and Pressures of Growing Up Female' (2013) which was shortlisted for a Politico's Political Book of the Year Award in 2014.


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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 7 May 1999
Format: Paperback
In the heady days of the late 1960s, an eager young twentysomething insinuates herself into the home of a noted intellectual and the heart of his twelve year-old daughter. An unequal, slightly sinister and yet affectionate relationship develops between the two females before disillusionment and scandal intervene. Only when both reach adulthood during the equally emotive early years of Thatcherism do they attempt to reconcile their past with the future. This debut novel is a triumph; told with a rare understanding of the emotions and worldview of both protagonists, an effortless recreation of the atmosphere of the times, and an exquisite use of language. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER on 31 May 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It is difficult to review this novel without giving its plot away. In the first part, set in 1970, we have a good picture of Tom, a quietly charismatic but somewhat unworldly left-wing academic; of a family living in a house with lots of admirers dropping in all the time, and of what his eleven/twelve year old daughter Sarah makes of it all (though her vocabulary seemed to me to belong to someone rather older). That part is told by Sarah in the first person. The relationships within that family - Tom, his second wife Rachel, Sarah the daughter of his first marriage, and her half-siblings Kate and Jack - are subtly described, both then and later.

In that year 1970 a young woman, Karen, works briefly for Tom, and becomes very important for Sarah. Then Karen suddenly leaves.

The rest of the book is a third person narrative of what happened to Sarah and Karen in the fourteen years that follow. In that time both women have developed into something damaged; both felt somehow as outsiders. For both, the events of 1970 had left painful memories.

In that time things have also happened to Tom - partly as the result of what had happened in 1970, and partly because his brand of Labour was regarded as old-fashioned by the younger generation who were adapting themselves to the exigencies of Thatcherism.

Given that I must not reveal the plot, this is a woefully inadequate review of a complex novel. I don't myself agree with one reviewer quoted on the back, who describes its language as `stunning': I found it in a few places a little obscure; but the ambivalence at the very end - back in the first person - is perfectly judged. I do recommend it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Lendrick VINE VOICE on 13 Nov. 2008
Format: Paperback
It is shocking that this seems to be out of print - it is the best novel I have read in a long time, and I know I will read it again, something I rarely do.

The story telling is simple, yet subtle and conveys great emmotional insight. The prose is sublime, again again I found myself stopping to reread passages for the elegance of their language and the ideas expressed. Pure pleasure.

Don;t hesitate just buy it.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mick Read on 14 May 2010
Format: Paperback
It's Greenham Common, Trafalgar Square politics, the angry, academic left fomenting student protest and failing to take the electorate along but spawning the death of comfy Conservatism and the birth of widespread political change. Stalin simply eliminated the educated classes, the UK let them morph into capitalist mercenaries on the one hand and New Labour on the other. Meanwhile, domestic circumstances seem to have changed little in the last forty years and there is much here that is repeated today.

Tom Martin is a brilliant, left-wing, thorn-in-the-side-of-authority academic who lives with his family in one of those four-storey, Victorian London houses, beloved then of Oxbridge graduates and today's blue-red politicians, that were affordable then but now cost a couple of million to buy. Tom runs an open-door house, frequented by like-minded radicals, students and general hangers-on of modest intellect, whilst he is usually locked away writing his latest opus and his family, one son, two daughters and beautiful wife number two, get on with the daily task of living. Through that open door walks Karen North, student - come researcher - come proof reader - come au pair - come trouble. Things don't, hoever, develop quite as one might think, there is more to Benn's story than simple sex and betrayal, far from it really, other than that which goes on in people's minds but fails to materialise in practice. What Benn depicts beautifully are the deep relationships and dependencies that build between various couples and how the individuals involved often only really acknowledge their personal significance long after the experience.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 2 reviews
Subtly plotted 31 May 2008
By Ralph Blumenau - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
It is difficult to review this novel without giving its plot away. In the first part, set in 1970, we have a good picture of Tom, a quietly charismatic but somewhat unworldly left-wing academic; of a family living in a house with lots of admirers dropping in all the time, and of what his eleven/twelve year old daughter Sarah makes of it all (though her vocabulary seemed to me to belong to someone rather older). That part is told by Sarah in the first person. The relationships within that family - Tom, his second wife Rachel, Sarah the daughter of his first marriage, and her half-siblings Kate and Jack - are subtly described, both then and later.

In that year 1970 a young woman, Karen, works briefly for Tom, and becomes very important for Sarah. Then Karen suddenly leaves.

The rest of the book is a third person narrative of what happened to Sarah and Karen in the fourteen years that follow. In that time both women have developed into something damaged; both felt somehow as outsiders. For both, the events of 1970 had left painful memories.

In that time things have also happened to Tom - partly as the result of what had happened in 1970, and partly because his brand of Labour was regarded as old-fashioned by the younger generation who were adapting themselves to the exigencies of Thatcherism.

Given that I must not reveal the plot, this is a woefully inadequate review of a complex novel. I don't myself agree with one reviewer quoted on the back, who describes its language as `stunning': I found it in a few places a little obscure; but the ambivalence at the very end - back in the first person - is perfectly judged. I do recommend it.
This debut novel is a triumph. 17 Oct. 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In the heady days of the late 1960s, an eager young twentysomething insinuates herself into the home of a noted intellectual and the heart of his twelve year-old daughter. An unequal, slightly sinister and yet affectionate relationship develops between the two females before disillusionment and scandal intervene. Only when both reach adulthood during the equally emotive early years of Thatcherism do they attempt to reconcile their past with the future. This debut novel is a triumph; told with a rare understanding of the emotions and worldview of both protagonists, an effortless recreation of the atmosphere of the times, and an exquisite use of language. Highly recommended.
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