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4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
The Photograph
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on 20 May 2005
Glyn Peters - academic, 'landscape historian' and sometime television presenter - chances upon an envelope marked 'DON'T OPEN - DESTROY' whilst ferreting away in his landing cupboard. He ignores the warning to reveal a photograph, the contents of which propel him, somewhat obsessively, to seek out people directly and indirectly connected with an earlier period in his life and to re-examine his most significant relationship. It would spoil the considerable suspense in 'The Photograph' to reveal more than this skeletal outline of the plot. Suffice it to say that on the fairly simple premise of one unearthed photograph, Lively has crafted a highly plausible, intelligent, absorbing and ultimately very moving account of the interaction between a bubbly, beautiful and unaffected woman and a range of well-developed characters who entered her world. Strongly recommended.
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on 2 September 2014
I remember seeing this book on the shelves of a book store in Guam several years ago, and for some reason, did not purchase it. Last month, I again found the book and decided to find out the mystery of the photograph that is the subject of the book. I definitely was expecting something else in the way of a novel, but was not at all disappointed by the story as it unfolded. At times, I felt like a voyeur looking into other people's thoughts, lives, emotions, and interactions and associations. It was interesting, somewhat predictable, and I could identify with the characters. Most interesting and enjoyable to me was the "English" writing style, sort of flowed in a conversational manner and I somehow put English accents in my mind to the sentences. The characters were so polite and courteous to each other that it would have been interesting to meet each of them socially. It was really quite pleasant. The plot was simple, but the unfolding of the story required reading though to the very end to get an understanding of how everyone interacted. Mary Packard pulled it all together and linked the pieces of the puzzle together quite nicely. I am very glad that I read the book, and am now going to try to enjoy some of Ms. Lively's other books.
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on 24 January 2012
It was only relatively recently when I discovered Moon Tiger that I realised how good Penelope Lively's writing is. Moon Tiger immediately joined my favourites of all times and I have since been reading her other books. The Photograph isn't quite up to the same standard, but then, Moon Tiger is exceptional in my view.

The eponymous photograph has lain buried in a cupboard since before Glyn Peters' wife Kath died 10 years ago. Glyn discovers it by chance while searching for some offprints. It is concealed in an envelope in a cupboard where it should not have been, and bears the enjoinder not to open it but to destroy it. Human nature being what is it, Glyn ignores the warning, and his life and his perceptions of Kath and of their relationship are changed forever.

As he becomes obsessed with discovering more about the act of betrayal that has been revealed to him, Glyn pursues the truth, tracking down those who knew Kath at the time, or who might have known her. Slowly, Kath's story is pieced together through the eyes of her sister Elaine, her brother-in-law Nick, her niece Polly, who adored her, and various associates who Glyn suspects might have an inkling of what happened all those years ago. But at what cost?

Penelope Lively writes so sensitively and intelligently about the issues that are closest to people's hearts that her books are a joy to read. Even so, this one, although I'd recommend it, is not in my view one of her best.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 28 February 2007
This is yet another Novel of People's Relationships. My problem with those is that there are just so many of them, and after a while one comes to seem very much like another. However I had known Penelope Lively's books for children when my own were still children a quarter of a century ago, I recalled them as being very superior products of their kind (the books that is), so I started on this story with my hopes high. It all took off in a very promising way, with an intriguing air of mystery around the absent figure of Kath. Unfortunately as the book went on the balloon of mystery slowly deflated.

The action of The Photograph begins with the discovery, you will be astounded to learn, of a photograph. Such is the aura of mystery that I had expected some sting in the tale, some disclosure that the photograph was not what it appeared to be. It turns out to be exactly what it appears to be, but I remained in suspense all the same. Why is Kath absent? The first and most obvious guess is that she is dead, and the first and most obvious guess is the right guess. In which case why take so long in confirming this fact? How Kath died is not revealed until near the end, but I had guessed that as well long before I was told, and there is nothing mysterious about it nor even, sad to say, anything very unusual or unexpected. Was this what I had been kept in suspense for? Why Kath died in the way she did is disclosed at the same time, and while I had not worked that bit out it did not startle me in any way when I came to it.

This is the whole trouble with this book - the figure of hints, innuendos and tantalising half-glimpses unravels progressively into someone fairly ordinary suffering a melancholy but ever so slightly prosaic fate. Mrs Lively seems to be under some compulsion to make it this way, because even when she is not seeking to be enigmatic and has Kath's widower determinedly rooting out suspected affairs from Kath's past the affairs turn out one by one to have been phantoms of his own suspicions and no affairs at all. This side of the story is all kept completely candid and un-mysterious and is explained as each investigation is carried out and draws a blank, the only mystery from my point of view being what is more arcane about all the rest of it.

At the end of the book it left me wondering what the other characters amounted to. It should go without saying that Penelope Lively is a writer of great and sensitive artistry. The other personae are, as one would expect from her, touched in with sympathy, perceptiveness and understanding, but the focus throughout the book has been so strongly on the would-be mystery surrounding Kath that when all that dissipates the others are left as rather a haphazard collection of minor parts that Mrs Lively has not really left herself enough space to develop to any great extent. Their main significance was in their relation to the figure of Kath, and when that loses its interest they have spent their capital, so to speak. The story is, of course, beautifully written, there is a genuinely affecting tone of human compassion and sympathy to it, there are numerous picturesque and even memorable little episodes and vignettes, but by the end I felt that the story had rather run a downhill course most of the way. A pity in many ways, but I was left with just another Novel of Human Relationships, and I'm inclined to think there are too many of those.
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VINE VOICEon 31 May 2011
"The Photograph" by Penelope Lively is a deceptively simple novel to read, and yet it works on many levels. It's about the agonising nag of loss - a feeling that never leaves you - deception, not being fulfilled, and ultimately the conceits we construct to hide the people we really are inside.

Quite deep, reflective themes around which to base a book that rattles along with the pace of a thriller. All the characters involved are beautifully drawn and vibrant - real people that really do spark off the page as three dimensional creations; and the prose is simple and elegant, and says more as a result of just not trying too hard. The subtle nuances that exist in life between people are well-captured here, Lively often saying much with just a sentence or two, which leaves the ideas running around in the reader's head.

Beautifully written; it's a story that completely engages and haunts from beginning to end. Thoroughly recommended.
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on 5 July 2004
I've been a fan of Penelope Lively since I first happened upon "Moon Tiger" two decades ago. I've never been disappointed in any of her writing; fiction, essays or children's books. I especially adore and recommend "Passing On"---it is an astonishing book. "The Photograph" is in the same league. A heartbreaking story about the effect one person has on many lives. A person we come to know those many lives never really knew. Shimmering!
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on 2 March 2003
Although Glyn has been married to the beatiful Kath for many years , there is a side to her that he never knew , a side which only unravels itself after her death.
I found The Photograph an honest and fascinating insight into the many layers of people's lives . If you've ever remembered something about a special day , and a friend has perceived it completely differently , then you will identify with it . I would recommend you read this if you enjoy the minutiae of ordinary people's lives and loves .
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VINE VOICEon 25 April 2015
A most subtle ghost story, of sorts. The death of the female protagonist, Kath, provokes inquiries in the minds of all of those connected to her. Fragments of memory are recalled, fleshed out and reinterpreted, as the characters whose lives intersected with hers try to understand what happened, and struggle to re-evaluate their own role in events. And Kate reappears, walking and talking again, if only in the minds of others.

A most unusual narrative style, too, in which characters' thoughts direct the non-sequential flow of chapters. The result is highly convincing from a psychological point of view. Characters often fail to understand each other because of their own agendas and obsessions - particularly so in the case of Kate's husband, Glyn, an academic who is instrumental in researching the context of a photograph which shows that his wife was unfaithful. It's also successful from a narrative viewpoint. We end up with a mosaic which progresses from fuzzy to fully resolved.

A highly skilful, beautifully told and absorbing exploration of a domestic tragedy, in which seemingly mundane events and conversations assume much greater significance when viewed with the benefit of hindsight many years later.
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on 25 March 2004
Following a review in the Times, I looked forward to reading this book and was not disappointed in any way. The chapters were concise and the plot moved along very well. I read the whole book in one evening as I could not put it down. The development of the charachters was very clever and original. I was gripped from the start and by the conclusion felt I understood Kath, the lead character very well. The ending was quite predictable yet rewarding. Superficially I admit the story was a simple one but on a deeper level the character development was important. I found this book highly original and entertaining and consider it one of the more memorable evenings I have spent this year! Certainly not worth missing.
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on 17 November 2009
The Photograph

Glyn is a widower, his wife Kath having died some years ago. While sorting through papers, he finds an envelope on which Kath has written `Don't Open - Destroy'. Intrigued, he ignores this and opens the envelope to find, not only all her vital papers, birth certificate, marriage certificate, etc, but also a photograph of her holding hands with her brother-in-law. From the attached note, it is clear that they were romantically linked.

Glyn wants to know more, and questions those who may have known what was happening.

It becomes clear that Kath has shown a different side of herself to everyone he questions. Who is the real Kath?

As ever, Penelope Lively has a varied and interesting line up of characters, all of whom have been touched by Kath in some way, and it seems that her husband knows her less well than he thought.

Wonderful, tragic, emotionally wringing. This is definitely a book I shall reread.
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