The Photograph Paperback – Mar 1 2005
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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.
*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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
Glyn and Kath had quietly grown apart over the years of their marriage. A photograph found among Glyn's papers, in an envelope provocatively marked "Don't Open - Destroy", shows him just how far apart they had, in reality, grown. For a time, he sits immobilized, taking in myriad possible implications. In an effort to understand and share this hurtful knowledge, he reveals his discovery to sister-in-law Elaine.
Oldest of the two sisters, Elaine is a selfish and humorless contrast to Kath. A landscape consultant, she no longer sees any charm in Nick, her husband of too many years. He is the epitome of a free spirit, entertaining grand ideas that he cannot bring to fruition. Nick dances through life, letting his imagination lead him, to Elaine's utter frustration. She, on the other hand, takes a businesslike approach to everyday existence, driven by her success and irritated by Nick's lack of it. Now in her prime, looking back, she makes excuses as to why she made the choices she did, excuses that come across as exceedingly lame. Kath, six years her junior, was underfoot during their growing-up years, an annoyance, like a gnat flying around one's ears. Elaine found her bothersome despite her startling beauty, or maybe because of it. Elaine always had a plan, a blueprint if you will, with a severe order to it, and Kath's spontaneity grated on her nerves. And Kath, in adulthood, remained irksome to her big sister.
Widower Glyn meets with Elaine to try to sort through the tatters left by Kath's death --- and Glyn's disturbing discovery --- remembering with a touch of guilt a time when they entertained fantasies of each other. They deal with the news in their personal, and opposite, manners --- Elaine, swift and without brooding; Glyn, drawing it out and obsessing.Read more ›
Penelope Lively's "The Photograph," her 16th novel, opens with a startling find. Glyn, a handsome Welsh landscape historian, has just discovered a photograph of Kath, his recently deceased wife. In it, with her back turned to the camera, she is holding hands with another man. The infidelity that the photograph presumably reveals leads Glyn on a series of encounters with those who have information about the affair: Nick the interloper; Elaine, Kath's sister who is also Nick's wife; Oliver, the photographer; Polly, Elaine's daughter and assorted others who have ties to the ethereal Kath.
The stage is thus set for what has become the author's signature minuet in which a world and time are revealed psyche by psyche after individuals from differing perspectives weigh in. The author employed this technique to moving effect in her 1987 Booker prize-winning novel "Moon Tiger," in which Claudia, a character faced with death, seeks to reconstruct her life. Voices of those from her past emerge to create a sense of myriad Claudias, while leading readers to a sorrowful story of lost love during WWII.
Although myriad Kaths emerge from this book, its achievement rests not in the ways we come to know the elfin and elusive young woman at its center, but rather it resides in the vibrant, searching, full-bodied characters who she captivated and, in some cases, abandoned. It is their stories that keep this riveting narrative afloat.
A clue as to the author's technique comes midway through the book when Glyn spies a kestrel hanging in the wind. The bird suggests to him a memory that he recalls this way:
"The kestrel evokes Kath. He came here with her once: another kestrel performed similarly, and Kath remarked on it, 'It stays still,' she had said.Read more ›
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.
Most recent customer reviews
I really enjoyed this book - however was a little disappointed in the end - I expected a bigger surprise for some reason - the only surprise was how she died & then you begin... Read morePublished on July 19 2004 by Lisa M. Fusco
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. Read morePublished on July 14 2004 by badkitty
Penelope Lively's "The Photograph" moved me to the very depths of my soul. I can't rate this book high enough. Read morePublished on July 9 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. Read morePublished on July 5 2004 by Tom O'Leary
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. Read morePublished on July 1 2004