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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 7 April 2014
One of the most disappointing books I've read is Laurie Lee's "I can't stay long". It's full of platitudes and home truths, written as the perspective of an old man (who'd just turned sixty): unworthy of the vigour and sparkle of his earlier books. Penelope Lively writes as someone twenty years older, so I was worried that it might be introspective philosophising. And it does include some of that. I had to reach for the dictionary on various occasions, such as when I was told that, "we are all solipsistic" and when the author referred to the "parabola between youth and age". But whatever Dame Penelope is, she is not homespun. And if her prose is sometimes fairly challenging, she is also thought provoking and raises many points that I, as a sixty nine year old, can identify with. She ponders when old age begins and she also gives us some gems: "the poor are always with us and now the old are too". And statistics: by 2030 there will be four million people over eighty in the UK; and whilst in 1961 there were just 592 people over a hundred, by 2060 there will be 455,000. "Consider these figures and gasp".

The book is divided into discrete chapters. After musing on old age, the author turns to Life and Times. This is not so much an autobiography (although there is a degree of this) as a look at important events in her lifetime (Suez, the Cuba crisis and the Cold War, for example). I find it refreshing that she remains in London and needs to keep in touch with events, rather than retreat to a make-believe world in "the country". She says that she is not at heart a city dweller, "but it makes every sense". And it is also refreshing that she maintains her balanced liberal beliefs, for example welcoming multi-culturalism as opposed to the grey monochrome she encountered on arrival from Egypt nearly seventy years ago. I also found myself very much in tune with her observations on English society, not least the odious class system.

The chapter on Memory was rather heavy going, though I agree with her contention about the teaching of history and could also identify with "the miasma of gloom" of a "dire" single sex boarding school.

As for the chapter on Reading and Writing, well a parallel might be useful. I once read an interview with Mike Atherton, then the English cricket captain (and a fellow Oxbridge History graduate, like Penelope Lively). He was fairly taciturn on cricket, but when it came to the books he read, he came to life. I could have talked books with him far more easily than cricket. But in the case of Dame Penelope, she was a bit high powered for me. I hadn't heard of all the writers she likes, and had only read two (William Golding and Elizabeth Bowen). But I was pleased to see that whilst seeming to prefer books, she was relatively open-minded about Kindle: "I get bored by the exclusive defence of either paper or screen". And she values the Internet.

Finally, we come across "Six Things": objects important to her. I noticed that one of these was a (New Testament) Jerusalem Bible. Although I'm an Anglican, I was pleased that she's a Bible-reading agnostic. Not for her the smug sophistry of the trendy "new atheists". Altogether, a very balanced person.
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56 of 59 people found the following review helpful
TOP 50 REVIEWERon 4 November 2013
Penelope Lively's new book 'is not quite a memoir' but it is about memory and 'the view from old age'. She bravely tackles a subject few others have dared to broach. This fascinating, truthful and lucid study is timely, as old age is the new demographic and the youngish politicians cannot ignore the problems created by the 1.4 million in the UK now over 80, 'gobbling up benefits', giving grief to government agencies, filling GP surgeries and hospital beds, bolstered by pensions, free passes for transport, winter fuel, TV licences and prescriptions yet expecting people to work until they are nearly 70. 'Today, people in their 60's seem - not young, just nicely mature... old age is in the eye of the beholder'. She thinks 70 is the brink of old age and 80 definitely old. Old age is forever stereotyped, she feels, but her own 80 year old self is just 'a top layer dressing...early selves are still mutinously present getting a word in now and then'. She discusses widowhood. 'The world is full of widows... we have engaged with grief and loss...so get on with it and don't behave as though you are uniquely afflicted'. She was married to Professor Jack Lively for 41 years; he died 12 years ago but is with her in her dreams, alive with herself often younger.

She is not envious of the young and would not wish to be young again if it meant 'a repeat performance'. Failing eyesight and arthritis have prevented her from the intense gardening she loved (she still potters about in her small, paved London garden). She no longer desires to travel. Her emphasis is on preservation of memory. She is aware it starts to fail as we get older. Reading is her daily fix, brain food, plenty of fiction, history, archaeology and treasured books from her shelves. and her still writing survives. She asks herself why we remember certain things whilst others are lost in 'the great dark cavern of what we have forgotten'.

Although certain desires and drives have gone, Penelope is 'as alive to the world as I have ever been'. She argues for it's many pleasures: the spring sunshine, food, a crisp newspaper, a hot shower, the sound of a beloved voice on the phone, the comfort of bed. The final section contains six items that mean a great deal to her and why. Two little ammonites in a piece of Dorset rock (like the one embossed on the book's cover), some kettle holders from Maine, a shard of 12th century pottery with two little leaping fish, an Egyptian cat ornament, a mother-of-pearl covered New Testament and an 18th century sampler. Penelope Lively observes that 'One of the few advantages of age is that you can report on it with a certain authority', adding 'We are sleeping histories of the world'. Delight, observant, witty and thoughtful; this wonderful book has all of these and is a joy to read.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 4 December 2013
As the author says, this book is a sort of memoir, but below the memories and narratives there lies a deep layer of thought, a jurassic cliff of meaning and understanding. The rating of four stars rather than five concerns quantity rather than quality and is the sign of dissatisfaction: I would have liked more of every layer.

As do all such offerings, it is death-defying and records a love garnered from the life so far enjoyed.

This is to be recommended to all who like Mrs Lively's work, to all who enjoy a gentle philosophy with a story, and especially to all who have reached old age or who have dealings with the final years of a full life.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 29 October 2013
Very much enjoyed this book by Penelope Lively. I had read a review by Bel Mooney and decided to buy it. It's a wonderful eye-opener into a modern day 80 year-old lady's take on life. We all wonder what old-age is like and what inner resources are available to us and as a 63 year old woman 'not young, just nicely mature' I found it most helpful. Her expressive writing is full of wise advice. She writes on memory which is important to us all - about there being three types of memory procedural, semantic and autobiographical memory giving context.
I found this a very interesting and wide-ranging book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon 9 January 2014
In this inventive trawl through memory, Penelope Lively reviews the landscape of old age from the perspective of an occupant. It's a bold but compelling take; one which leaves me wondering whether it's better to travel than arrive. Maybe my view is coloured by being on the cusp; not wanting to travel toward that final destination and certainly not having yet arrived.

As always, her writing is entertaining and original. She uses language and grammar to the full. I like a book where I discover new words and there were a few for me here. I enjoyed her often lyrical reflections. She has, I believe, fallen a little out of favour as an author. How many folk remember her Booker or Costa short list titles?

These reflections are personal, but with an underlying universal truth. Along with Diane Athill, she's one of very few writers capable of giving the ordinary reader a clear view from the road ahead. I enjoyed her journey and thank her for sharing part of her eventful life with us. It's a delightful, poignant but overwhelmingly positive read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 20 January 2014
The first sixty pages are superb and full of quotes I had to sideline to ensure I could go back to them as they are so good and I didt want my wife to miss them. Partly this is so profound because it is authentic, it is written by an old person, almost a view from the other side. It does not pull punches but at the same time stays determinedly optimistic. The subsequent sections are interesting in parts, but the first part is fully worth the five stars -unique.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 17 November 2013
Penelope's fluid prose is easy to read and absorb but that doesn't mean her thoughts are superficial, just well expressed.
This is the main reason I enjoyed reading the book.
Her thoughts on ageing and the difference age brings to perspectives are worth being aired and chime with many unstructured thoughts of my own.
My only criticism would be that the content gets a little repetitive towards the end-just like older people!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 September 2014
This is a lovely book for people in my age group who are coming towards the end of their lives. It made me realise what an extraordinary gift memory is and how lost we would be without those mental videos of events of our lives and the people who have given it meaning. The final chapter concentrates on a series of small objects each of which holds special significance in the life of the author and made me wander round my own house finding similar things which open doors to people, places and memories. Beautifully written. It has made me want to read other books by Penelope Lively; fortunately there are quite a few.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 20 January 2014
I loved this book for the way it ranged over the memories and experiences of a lifetime. Possibly because I am only a little younger than the author. There was much to relate to and ponder over. A book to set me contemplating my own rather more mundane experiences.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 January 2014
this is a proufound and deep meditation on old age. couldn't read it all at one sitting the honesty
is so penetrating and thoughtful It made me wonder if I wanted to grow old. Penelope lively's prose still sings and fills your head with reflections
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