The Photograph by Penelope Lively

Walking along the beach one day, my friend Paul told me that he’d saved a young man trying to kill himself there not so long ago. Upon engaging the distraught would be suicider, he discovered that the reason for his unhappiness with the world, or with himself, was his extreme beauty. It prevented normal relations with people, with the world.

This is a story of such a person – I imagine it’s impossible to understand unless one is in that position. We have no conception, after all, that one could be too beautiful. Too ugly maybe, too tall, too intelligent, but never too beautiful. Difficult as it may be to grasp to see the burden of it, to empathise with it, Lively delivers. She also manages to create a host of utterly ghastly characters without that being alienating. A neat trick. And the characters were all clear to me in my mind’s eye, exactly the opposite of the Penelope Fitzgerald book I just finished. Checking her biography, it comes as no surprise that she is married to an academic – she knows the type too well. Memory, how we remember, and the impact that has upon the subjects of our memories as well as upon ourselves are of import to her and are the substance of the book. Of necessity this means the structure of the book consists of individual perspective, first one person’s and then another. It works well.

I’m embarrassed to say, having picked this up at breakfast, a few pages into it, I couldn’t put it down, it consumed my day, good intentions not so much set, as swept, aside. Highly recommend it.

One thought on “The Photograph by Penelope Lively

  1. I did wonder where you’d gone to. Sort of a what-does-Christopher-Robin-do-in-the-morning-style mystery.

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