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The Photograph [Paperback]

Penelope Lively
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 1 2005

It opens with a snapshot: Kath, at an unknown gathering, hands clasped with a man not her husband, their backs to the camera. Found after her death, the photograph is in an envelope marked DON`T OPEN-DESTROY. But Kath`s husband does not heed the warning. The mystery of the photograph, and of Kath herself, propels him on a journey of discovery in which he must peel back the layers of their life together. The unfolding tale reveals a tight web of secrets-within marriages, between two sisters, and at the heart of an affair. Kath, with her mesmerizing looks and casual ways, moves like an insistent ghost through the thoughts and memories of everyone who knew her: Glyn, her husband, a historian past his prime; her sister, Elaine, a garden designer married to feckless Nick; and their daughter, Polly, who oscillates between home and family and the tumultuous new era she inhabits.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Lively likes historians. Her most famous novel on this side of the Atlantic, the Booker Prize-winning Moon Tiger, told the story of a popular historian; her latest narrates the quest of a "landscape historian" in search of what Proust called "lost time": the living past of his dead wife. Glyn Peters, a famous British archeologist, discovers a compromising photograph of his wife, Katherine Targett, sealed in an envelope in a closet at home. Peters specializes in excavating the long defunct gardens, buried fields and covered-over roads of the British landscape. Reverting to professional habits, he treats Kath's infidelity as a sort of archeological dig. The photo depicts Kath and Nick Hammond, the husband of Kath's sister, Elaine, surreptitiously holding hands on some outing, with Elaine and Mary Packard, Kath's best friend, in the background. Glyn decides to interview this cloud of witnesses, beginning with Elaine. Elaine is a successful, and somewhat cold, landscaper; Nick, her polar opposite, is a man one degree away from being a Wodehouse dilettante. Lively, who is never shy of letting us know her opinion of her characters (like Trollope), makes her disapprobation of Nick plain. Elaine, after learning of the affair, kicks Nick out. He takes refuge with Polly, their daughter, in London, and goes rapidly downhill. Glyn, meanwhile, has searched out Nick's ex-business partner, Oliver Watson, who took the photograph, and Mary Packard. Lively is always a discerning, keenly intelligent writer. This, for instance, is how she describes, in three irrevocable words, Elaine's pregnancy: "She is pregnant: heavy, hampered, irritable." Unfortunately, Kath, a demon-haunted beauty with little depth, remains unconjurable. Her insubstantiality and the much-foreshadowed nature of her death, not revealed until late in the novel, drains this story of its full emotional impact.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In Booker Prize winner Lively's stunning novels, the past and present form a yin-yang-like balance, and her keen and agitated characters fall into two camps. One, comprising dogged professionals, is obsessed with imposing order on life, and is driven mad by the other, which consists of more sensitive and improvisatory souls, such as Kath, the dead woman at the center of this elegant yet electrifying tale. As the reader wonders about the nature of Kath's death, Lively, a master of the whip-crack phrase and arch and dissecting humor, craftily reveals the culpability of Kath's survivors: her ambitious husband, Glyn, a renowned landscape historian who can discern subtle evidence of ancient forts yet remains oblivious to his wife's emotions; Kath's frosty older sister, Elaine, a hugely successful garden designer; and Elaine's once "beguiling" now "exasperating" husband, Nick. Kath returns to haunt these smug souls after Glyn finds an incendiary photograph that calls into question everything this little coterie thought they knew about themselves and each other. As lovely but lonely Kath comes into ever sharper focus through the lens of each character's increasingly stressed consciousness, Lively offers provocative musings on work, obsession, the burden of beauty, alienation of affections, and the endless longing for love. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
For all the excellent reviews it got, my expectations were very high. I was very disappointed. The book's plot was not overwhelming interesting, nor were its characters. The ending was predictable, and the main character lacked any real depth. Maybe I missed something but I couldn't wait to finish it. All of the characters in the story seemed bland and unemotional.
If you are looking for a quick and interesting summer read, try The Seduction of Water by Carol Goodman.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite Writing, Once Again July 5 2004
Penelope Lively is a world treasure. I've now read "Moon Tiger" twice and given it to dozens of friends. "The Photograph" stands right along side. This tale is exquisitely heartbreaking and a joy from start to finish. I recommend it highly.
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2.0 out of 5 stars dispassionate account July 1 2004
By A Customer
I found this book to be a dispassionate account of a pedantic researcher who methodically seeks to fill in the blanks of his wife's relationships. The author failed to convey to me any sense of passion, pain or failed moments. (...)..a book more suited to a short story.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Character Development June 11 2004
This is the story of Kath, told by those who knew her, or didn't, as it turned out in some cases. Kath is vibrant, beautiful, and fun. Everyone loves being around her, it seems. Kath is revealed slowly as the book progresses. The revelation begins when her husband finds a photograph that was supposed to be destroyed. It shakes his world so completely that he in turn shakes the world of others who were living benignly unaware.
I noticed, as I was reading, that in the beginning I did not care about the characters. The author slowly built and developed the characters of Kath, her husband, Glyn, her sister, Elaine, and her brother-in-law, Nick. Each of them became more than I first thought. I wished that they could go back and see Kath for who she really was or wanted to be. This was a great book. I highly recommend it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Picture June 6 2004
There's something rather charming and certainly delightful about the English novel. I'm often attracted to those that take place in current times, but when I started this one I was a little put off for some reason. Not sure what it was but since I was already in bed and didn't feel like getting up and searching for something else to read, I continued and thank goodness I did.
THE PHOTOGRAPH is so well done. I love a plot that wraps around itself, telling us the story through the eyes of more than one person and doing it in such a way that is both clever and artistic. Penelope Lively accomplished that easily. We never actually meet Kath in life but learn about her in death through the words of her husband, sister, niece, friends, and a somewhat insignificant lover.
Perhaps no one knew Kath while she was alive. The secrets she kept from everyone made her life mysterious in a way no one recognized until after she was gone. Her sister Elaine is so wrapped up with her business of designing gardens and her husband Glyn so engrossed in his career that even if she told them, they probably wouldn't have heard her. So it's rather remarkable to watch as Kath changes the lives of these people even after she has died - and maybe for the better.
A good read for those who like this type of book - people, problems, solutions, and how life goes on.
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