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Lively, Penelope

life concerns writing children

(British, 1933– )

Penelope Lively was born in Egypt, married a don, and lives in a sixteenth-century farmhouse. In those three details one has something of an insight into her writing concerns as a whole: a sense of other cultures and other places, an academic setting for several of her novels, and her intense consciousness of the presence of the past. Her Booker Prize-winning Moon Tiger (1988) is the life story of the ebullient Claudia Hampton, intertwined with an entire history of the world, an admirably bold idea. Perfect Happiness (1983) is a brief, powerful, emotionally exact novel about love and loss, following the life of the gentle Frances after the death of her husband, the dominating, charismatic Steven. Her recovery is partly aided by her wonderfully feisty friend, Zoe, and, with rich irony, by the injury of her son, Harry, by a terrorist bomb at Venice airport. Finally, after those lonely months she spent ‘trudging that level grey plain of sorrow’, she finds herself ‘hitched, again, to time and to the world’. Lively's prose is lyrical but precise, and always hints at the richness of human life, that cannot be predicted or controlled. Though ‘perfect happiness’ may be a chimera, happiness of some sort is always possible. Lively's concerns surface again in her marvellous books for children, such as The House in Norham Gardens (1974) and The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (1973). She is one of those rare writers whose writing for both adults and children forms a seamless whole.

Susan Hill, Alice Thomas Ellis, Nina Bawden  CH

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