by Penelope Lively
London 1935: A chance meeting in St. James’s Park sparks a love affair that reverberates through three generations of women and the major events of the twentieth century – from the devastation of World War II to the social revolutions of the 1960’s to a journey of self-discovery at the end of an era.
By chronicling the choices and consequences that comprise a family’s history, acclaimed author Penelope Lively offers an intimate, profoundly moving reaffirmation of the force of connection between generations.
I just discovered Penelope Lively, better late than never! I so enjoyed this novel. I love generational tales and her characters are such well written characters you get invested. I’m on a mission now to read all her books. Just ordered The Photograph from paperback swap.
We first peek into life with Lorna and Matt. Two very different backgrounds meeting on a park bench. Lorna is from a well to do family and detests everything that comes with that. She balks ever step of the way and then she meets Matt and her world changes forever. She leaves it all behind for a life with Matt, an up coming artist, a wood engraver. They start life together just before WWII in Somerset England, in a tiny farm cottage with no running water or heat. They are in love and so happy. Lorna learns to be self-sufficient and do things she never dreamed she would ever do. Matt is honing his art and becoming a known name in the field. Lorna learns she is pregnant…
‘And she was perfectly content. So be it. They had not meant this to happen, not just yet, but no matter. Already, her condition was coming to seem just another facet of this new life. She thought: a year ago I would never have dreamed that there could be Matt, that we could be here, like this, that I would feel as Ido, that I could have become a new person. And in another year everything will be different yet again. It is always like that, and always will be; you are forever standing on the brink, in a place where you cannot see ahead; there is nothing of which to be certain except what lies behind. This should be terrifying, but somehow it is not.’
Molly is born and their world just enlarges with more love. Then the impending war changes everything.
I really wanted Lorna and Matts story to go on and on, but the war changed everything and now we move into Molly’s life.
Molly was very young when her dad died. Lorna remarries, though she need gets over the loss of Matt, but dies while Molly is still young. Molly has memories of her mom and vague memories of her dad. She is strong and self-sufficient…
‘Her parents seemed to her now to be somewhere far away, as though you looked through the wrong end of a telescope. At the same time, they were constant, frozen forever in a particular instant of recollection: her father dressed as a soldier standing in a doorway, her mother in the office here in the Fulham house, her hands on the typewriter, looking up with a smile. Her mother wiping a cut on Molly’s leg with cotton wool that becomes bright with blood; her mother pinning washing on the line, and Molly hands her the pegs; her mother standing at a window, here in Fulham, and when she turns around her eyes are shining with tears.
They are locked into Molly’s childhood, her parents. They were somewhere long ago, always there, unchanging. They would never get any older, unlike Lucas, who had gray hair now, and Simon, who was hurtling from childhood into adolescence. She would see them always with her own child’s eye, these distant, immortal figures. What she felt for them was a trace of childhood emotion, which seemed to come smoking back, when their images floated into her head. She became for an instant a child again, experiencing them.
Her adult self saw them differently, as simultaneously remote but deeply personal. She saw them also with detachment, as themselves: young people who had not lived for very long. She felt a strange protectiveness toward them, as though she guarded them in her mind, affording them some kind of survival. But at the same time she knew herself to without them, entirely. To be parentless is to be in some way untethered. For Molly, it was also a recipe for determined self-sufficiency.’
Molly begins an affair with an older, wealthy man. He loves her and wants to marry her but she is not sure and says no. Ruth is born from this union.
Molly raises Ruth by herself. She has a good relationship with James, Ruth’s dad but isn’t sure what love really looks like and holds herself back from any commitments. She won’t allow James to help her much. She like her mother Lorna rejects the pampered, uppercuts life. She tries her hand a different jobs and contents herself with raising Ruth.
Ruth grows up between worlds, that of the middle class and her father’s wealthy lifestyle. She becomes a journalist, marries and has 2 children. She is fascinated with the concept of time – then and now, past, present and future. The concept of space – there, here, elsewhere. I really liked that aspect of Ruth’s character. Reading a letter to her grandmother, Lorna, from a man who was with Matt when he was killed in the war, she considers this…
So that is how it was, thinks Ruth – thinks future. So that – up to a point – is how it was, when then was now. But this evening, as she stares yet again at that careful handwriting – the writing perhaps of a man for whom language did not flow too easily – today then takes on a different complexion. She knows so much that John Marsh could not know. He is trapped within the slide of the present, his present. Ruth, in her own way, knows what will become of his – that the war will end, but not for a while, that Nazism will be routed, that a complicated new world order will emerge, with new nightmares, new Armageddons.
As she reads – the letter, the books – time is collapsed. Past and present seem torun concurrently: what happened, what is thought o have happened.
Loved the end of this book. Ruth brings it all full circle. Wonderful story