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Family Album Paperback – 27 May 2010

3.7 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (27 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141041226
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141041223
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 248,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Lively immediately plunges us into an entirely convincing world of bustling family life...exceptionally well observed and gloriously enjoyable...this should be rated as one of her most impressive works (Guardian)

One of those ridiculously simple, ridiculously readable novels whose artistry only becomes apparent when you put it down with a sign of regret, having devoured it in one sitting...Lively still displays an economy and an elegance that put younger writers to shame (Sunday Telegraph)

Lively's brilliance is of the creeping kind. There is a sense of formality, which falls away as the novel gains pace and builds towards an unforeseen end. She is particularly good at bending language to make it fit her cool and clear voice...Lively succeeds brilliantly in getting a hold on the climate of family life. Slowly we absorb the details that get lost in the bluster and flurry until we are so drawn in, so tightly contained in the dynamics of this one, that the end, when it comes, is simply devastating (The Times)

A pleasure to read, hugely enjoyable, consistently absorbing, hilarious (Independent)

An involving emotional drama and an insightful examination of changing family values (Easy Living)

The complexities and silences of family life are intelligently and subtly explored...a very engaging novel, continuously interesting and often moving (Scotsman)

Gorgeous (David Vann Guardian Books of the Year)

Sympathetic and observant, Lively moves fluidly between present-tense set-piece scenes and silent monologues, placing the novel's revelations where they will be most effective, and allowing implications - about marriage, feminism and personal ambition - to blossom slowly (Sunday Times)

Penelope Lively at her best, sharp-eyed but sympathetic, deftly steering the reader from one point of view to another. This novel should delight her regular readers and ensnare new ones (Evening Standard)

A very readable, well-paced novel peopled with Lively's customary immaculately observed and impeccably rounded characters (Independent on Sunday)

Lively skilfully mingles past and present, as she peels away the layers to uncover a family secret of which no one speaks...Lively's astute skewering of family relations reverberates in the mind long afterwards (Daily Mail)

Lively plays her sleight of hand with admirable dexterity. The dialogue is pitch-perfect, the writing crisp and the humour wonderfully dry (Tatler)

Gripping. An intelligent look at family relationships and the knock-on effects of past events on the present. It's an absorbing tale of mystery and intrigue that will leave you wondering what lies behind even the nicest façade (Woman & Home)

A deeply satisfying, eloquent family-fabric novel (Good Housekeeping)

About the Author

Penelope Lively has written many prize-winning novels for adults and children. They include: The Road To Lichfield, According To Mark, Moon Tiger (which won the 1987 Booker Prize), Heat Wave, Spiderweb, The Photograph, Making It Up and Consequences. Penelope Lively lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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?
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By Matt TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 20 Nov. 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Penelope Lively's novel 'Family Album' is just that: a series of snapshots from the lives of a large upper-middle class family growing up in their somewhat ramshackle home Allersmead. There are six children, all of whom have grown up and fled the nest, with the exception of eldest son Paul, whose life is caught in a self-destructive spiral and is unable to get away. The other siblings have spread far and wide across the globe, and yet they are still tethered to Allersmead by inescapable and sometimes unwelcome memories of growing up there.

This is a subtle, thoughtful novel - family secrets are gradually brought to light and there are crises to be faced and reflected upon but there are no earth-shaking events or melodrama. It's an exploration of family - what does it mean? How do we define it, and in turn how does it define us? - and of memory. The family in turn share particular memories from their differing perspectives; some come unbidden, reluctantly, sparked by a chance remark, some are hazy and indistinct, others are fully formed and feel as fresh as when they were first experienced. The grown-up children are left pondering why they have all done their best to escape from Allersmead and their unusual trio of elders - their emotional, smothering mother Alison, their distant sarcastic father Charles and the long term au pair Ingrid, who is tied to the family in deeper, more complicated ways than mere employment.

Penelope Lively's elegant prose is always a pleasure to read, and unlike some other reviewers I found the large cast of characters convincing and compelling. Lively's dissection of family dynamics is astute and perceptive, prompting questions that linger in the mind after the novel is over; as in real life, not all of them are answered - but then people never truly know each other, however close they may be.

This is not perhaps the author's finest work but it's still very good and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Recommended.
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Format: 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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