Penelope Lively is a grande dame of British letters whose novels have attracted readers of Ian McEwan and Iris Murdoch-as well as those enthralled by her insight into relationships and family. The Photograph brings her talents into a whole new page-turning realm. It opens with a snapshot: a young woman, Kath, at an unknown gathering, hands clasped with a man not her husband, their backs to the camera. Its envelope is marked DO NOT OPEN-DESTROY. But Kath's husband, Glyn, does not heed the warning. The mystery of the photograph, and of Kath herself and her recent death, propels him on a journey of discovery that sends shock waves through the lives of her family and friends. The elfin Kath-with her mesmerizing looks and casual ways-moves like an insistent ghost through the thoughts and memories of everyone who knew her: self-centered Glyn, past his lusty, passionate professorial prime her remorselessly competent sister Elaine, a doyenne garden designer married to feckless ne'er-do-well Nick and their daughter Polly, beloved of Kath, who oscillates between home and family and the tumultuous new era she inhabits. The Photograph, with Lively's signature mastery of narrative and psychology, explores issues that extend far beyond its London suburban setting: a woman's beauty and its collision with her own happiness, sisters' rivalry and lovers' cooling, a marriage in supreme crisis, and the cost of professional "success" as life unfolds. It is Penelope Lively at her very best, the dazzling and intriguing climax to all she has written before.
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