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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Tale of many voices
Penelop Lively's new novel covers a subject previously explored in 'A House Unlocked'. In 'Family Album' the home is the only reliable witness to a tale of many voices. There is no protagonist, the commentary comes from the memories and reflections of the six children born at Allersmead, a large, shabby 7 bedroomed Edwardian house which becomes a shrine to old fashioned...
Published on 9 July 2010 by Isola

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but not her best
I soon became immersed in this story of a large family growing up, leaving home, and intermittently returning for various family functions, but it isn't one of Penelope Lively's best. While reading it, it seemed more dialogue-based than the other books I have read by this author, with less of the descriptive text that she writes so well. So while I found it an enjoyable...
Published on 5 Feb 2012 by Suzie


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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Tale of many voices, 9 July 2010
By 
Isola (Wiltshire UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Family Album (Paperback)
Penelop Lively's new novel covers a subject previously explored in 'A House Unlocked'. In 'Family Album' the home is the only reliable witness to a tale of many voices. There is no protagonist, the commentary comes from the memories and reflections of the six children born at Allersmead, a large, shabby 7 bedroomed Edwardian house which becomes a shrine to old fashioned family life.

Alison, an earth mother, and Charles, a scholarly and detached husband live at Allersmead, together with their children, 4 girls and 2 boys, plus Ingrid, the au pair. Eventually the children fly the nest, leaving only Paul, the feckless first born still in residence. Although the others fleetingly (and reluctantly) return from time to time, they are all brought together through family circumstances. The author doesn't seem to go to any lengths to camouflage the 'skeleton in the cupboard', which I easily guessed early on, but I can't help feeling Lively is hinting at another, possibly darker secret than the one exposed. I know this isn't her style, so maybe I have just 'misread' between the lines!

Regardless, this beautifully orchestrated story of the English middle classes from the 1970s to present day is so convincingly told as to make the reader sigh, smile or cringe! The past and present narratives are smoothely interwoven and I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this novel.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Family Album - once more, a great read, 28 Aug 2009
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This review is from: Family Album (Hardcover)
I make a habit of buying Penelope Lively's novels as soon as they come out. They are all different, and this time I was certainly not disappointed. Having just read her memoir A House Unlocked (also from Amazon) which is a fascinating book about a real house with its social history over most of the twentieth century, I very much enjoyed Family Album - again partly about a house, Allersmead, but all the better for being a novel. The characters are mostly believable and distinct from each other, even though there are six children in the family - I soon sorted out who was who, and came to like them all in different ways.

Very small quibbles - Ingrid the au pair was rather a cold stereotype Scandinavian, which I noticed because a lot of my relations are Danish and all different from each other! And it irritated me that we never found out if she was actually Danish or Swedish. Also when Katie flies up from Boston to visit Roger in Toronto and tells him how she longs for a child and has tried everything, even IVF, it is unconvincing that he, a doctor, does not already know about her having had IVF. IVF is a complicated long-drawn out medical procedure, at least it was in my family, and it is not believable that she would not have consulted her brother (in the same continent as herself) while deciding whether to embark on it; that's what brothers who are doctors are for! Oh and Martin doesn't go to the funeral - I hardly think that a meeting of Senate would be enough to stop him - even if he were the Vice Chancellor himself, he would have a deputy and a family funeral would override Senate; unless Martin was looking for an excuse to miss the funeral, of course?

I very rarely read a novel more than once - life is too short to fit them all in - but it struck me early on when reading Family Album that this is a novel that I will read again, because I want to savour again the delicate way that all their lives unfold, intertwined with each other and then separately when the children grow up. It's a very clever book, and a real treat to look forward to if you haven't read it!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but not her best, 5 Feb 2012
By 
Suzie (Scotland, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Family Album (Paperback)
I soon became immersed in this story of a large family growing up, leaving home, and intermittently returning for various family functions, but it isn't one of Penelope Lively's best. While reading it, it seemed more dialogue-based than the other books I have read by this author, with less of the descriptive text that she writes so well. So while I found it an enjoyable light read for a long train journey, it is less substantial than some of her other works.

Alison is the earth mother to whom home and family are everything, while Charles prefers the relative peace of his study to the boisterous atmosphere of the family he has helped to create. Theirs seems an unlikely match and indeed Charles appears by his actions to have formed the same impression, manifested most obviously in his reaction to Alison's assertion that `your father thinks so too', or `your father agrees', or words to that effect. The true nature of their relationship, or lack of it, is only ever hinted at, but it lies behind every aspect of the story.

If you read the blurb on the back cover and are waiting for the `devastating secret of which no one speaks...' prepare to be disappointed. There are several secrets, none particularly devastating or, for that matter, particularly secret.

The focus slips effortlessly between the present and reminiscences of the past without any risk of confusion. But the children, of whom Paul is the oldest, his mother's favourite, and the one who makes nothing of his life apart from trouble, are for the most part only halfway interesting characters who never come alive in the way that Penelope Lively's characters usually do.

If you prefer a fast moving or plot-driven story then this is not for you. If on the other hand you're interested in family relationships you should find it interesting enough. I'd recommend Moon Tiger though (my own favourite), How it all Began (Penelope Lively's latest), or Consequences, in preference to this one. I'd probably have given it 7 out of 10 if that had been an option.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes - do judge this book by it's gorgeous cover, 5 Nov 2009
By 
Mrs. Katharine Kirby "Kate" (HELSTON, Cornwall United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Family Album (Hardcover)
I fell in love with Family Album when I saw the cover. Somehow I knew already the kind of book it would be and from a life long history of reading Penelope Lively, with my mother also collecting her books, I felt confident that this would be worth buying in hard back. And so it jolly well was. I read the book in a few days, eagerly looking forward to getting back to it all the time. I was in that house. Allersmead, the open armed heroine of the whole story.

It is a touching, thoughtful, searingly honest portrait of a large unwieldy family with a detached, distant and distinctly odd father who for me anyway rang a peal of bells.

Delightful scenes are played out with a sideways look at the accommodations people make for those they love without knowing why - humour is there too, take for instance Paul's German exchange, an incident which made me roar with laughter. I will never forget that chapter. I can even quote from it at length.

It reminded me of The Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido, another favourite read.

I have known women like Alison but never have they blithely gone to such lengths. What fun it was reading about her inner feelings as she watched her tribe setting off for school - she had the biggest family locally - all her own - or are they?

Wow you will enjoy this terrific tale, don't be put off by other reviews, if you are interested in people and love to know the ins and outs of other's life here are rich pickings indeed.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What makes a family? What makes a happy family?, 12 Mar 2010
By 
Jill Meyer (United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Family Album (Hardcover)
Penelope Lively's new novel, Family Album, is about a large family that grows up in a large house in suburban London. The Harper family consists of six children, the two parents, and an "au pair girl" who has played an interesting role in family history.

The Harper family revolves around Alison, the mother of the brood, and Allersmead, the Victorian "pile" that the Harper family has lived in for 40 years or so. The father, Charles, a distant figure in the household, is sort of "there, but not there", to his six children. He's a fairly successful writer of non-fiction, often writing about families in far off lands, while moving through his own children's lives at a safe distance. He's often holed up in his library, which is off-limits to the rest of the household. He doesn't get involved with his children, other than with his oldest son, Paul, a neer-do-well who Charles often disparages.

Alison Harper is a "super-Mom". She's the one who wanted a large family and she has made a life for herself seemingly limited to raising the children and keeping the house. She's not the intellectual that her husband is and actually has very little communication with him.

In this melieu the six children - four daughter and two sons - grow up. All but one leave home as soon as possible, but maintain a tenuous connection with family and house. They return to the family home for holidays and birthdays and try, between themselves, to make some sense of their crazy upbringing. An upbringing that only Alison sees as "happy".

Lively is a good writer and most of the nine characters are well drawn. The book goes back and forth in time, depending on who's "telling the story". I found the characters interesting enough so as to almost wish that another writer, maybe one who writes big, fleshy, juicy novels, would take these characters and expand the book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Family Album, 10 Feb 2010
By 
G. Gott (Stratford-upon-Avon) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Family Album (Hardcover)
Penelope Lively writing brings to the fore thoughts about one's own family and friends that are so true but not always obvious . I could recognise feelings and reactions throughout the book in the story of this family, they were not the same as my family but often echoed aspects within it.
Her writing reads effortlessly and is a real pleasure. It makes this a good read that makes you think. Just what I want in a novel!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Turgid and unengaging, 26 Jan 2010
By 
A. J. King "ajking22" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Family Album (Hardcover)
Like most reviewers I am a great admirer of Penelope Lively and unfortunately like a lot of reviewers I too found this disappointing. The background and characters are familiar territory for anyone who reads her novels, and as always it is beautifully written - the problem is there is no real plot or even point to speak of that I could latch onto and the characters have nothing to develop around. The fulcrum or centre of the story is a family who have owned the same house for 50 years, in which 6 children were born, raised and have with one exception long since moved on, leaving the parents behind. For the mother, the family was and remains the central and only thing in her life. Unfortunately that is about it, without giving the story away. The characters interact with each other in a latticework of individual relationships no more nor less complex than anyone else, and by this means is something of a "point" revealed. But there is too little of it - and it never develops. There are secrets of course, but not enough in my mind to sustain 250 pages. By half way through I longed for a fire, a death, a divorce....anything to give the story a focus. Of course that may be Lively's point - there are millions of people like this family to whom dramas do not happen. It is unfortunate that in literature they are also the most tedious and uninteresting.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Penelope Lively does it again, 17 July 2010
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This review is from: Family Album (Paperback)
I am a fan anyway but I was excited when I got this book - and I wasn't disappointed. I couldn't put it down. I can't believe that Ms Lively is still turning out such fab books. Thoroughly recommended for a bit of enjoyable summer garden reading. Give it a go if you haven't read her before!
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lively sluggish this time., 27 Sep 2009
By 
Ms. Margaret M. Mcdermott (NOTTINGHAM ENGLAND) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Family Album (Hardcover)
I have always been a great admirer of Penelope Lively and enjoyed reading most of her previous books. This one though is a disappointment and never gets off the ground.It is almost as if she is just going through the motions and has no real interest in any of her characters and is just shuffling them around.As a previous reviewer has stated there is a curious detachment from modern life and it is hard to believe the children are only in their thirties or forties, they speak, feel and act as if they are much older. Perhaps this reflects Lively's own estrangement from modern times and, at the risk of sounding ageist, is inevitable in an older author. I was similarly unimpressed by the latest from A.S. Byatt for almost the same reasons although her prose lacks the elegance and wit of Lively. Maybe it is time to put down the pen.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Skeletons in the cupboard, 19 Aug 2010
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This review is from: Family Album (Paperback)
What a mixed set of reviews elicited by one novel! I have struggled in the past with Penelope Lively but romped through this one and, as ever, it's elegantly written and skilfully constructed.
Allersmead is a house, a real family home for a real old-fashioned family - as their mother Alison points out at every opportunity.
But her six children are grown (and, strangely, none have children of their own). As they excavate the layers of their past, nobody knows the whole story.
Alison is a brilliant portrait of a certain type of 1970s Laura Ashley-rigged earth mother. But, as other reviewers have pointed out, there's a sense that some characters haven't been fully explained - especially Paul, the self-destructive son; how did he get like that? And Ingrid the au pair keeps her own counsel to the end. I couldn't quite decide whether Penelope Lively had simply failed to flesh them out or whether she meant to leave some curtains drawn when she left the house.
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Family Album
Family Album by Penelope Lively (Paperback - 27 May 2010)
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