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Penelope Lively Biography

(1933– ), Oleander, Jacaranda, Astercote, The Road to Lichfield, Treasures of Time, Judgement Day

past children mother time

British novelist and children's writer, born in Cairo, educated at St Anne's College, Oxford. Her childhood in Egypt is vividly evoked in Oleander, Jacaranda (1994), an autobiography of her early years. Beginning with Astercote (1970), Lively has written over twenty well-received books for children. Her first novel for adults, The Road to Lichfield (1977), and her subsequent novels are rewarding for their sensitivity to character, their intelligent humour, their admission of tragedy, and their historical insights. Treasures of Time (1979) explores the painfully conflicting memories uncovered by a television documentary about a dead archaeologist who had had an adulterous affair with his wife's sister. In Judgement Day (1980) Lively comes closest to a statement of faith, not in any established religion, but in love that is very much human and in the power of words. According to Mark (1984) presents a biographer learning as much about himself as about the blustering and deceptive great man who is his subject. In Moon Tiger (1987; Booker Prize) an uncompromising old lady relives her past; different voices reveal the complexities and chronic misunderstandings of their relationships, including those of her long-buried wartime lover, who speaks through his diary, and their daughter who has always irritated her mother, partly because she is the child of the wrong man. What passes between mothers and children is central to her work, which shows how easily, through neglect of language as of feeling, those relationships can falter. Passing On (1989) considers the lifelong effects of such distortion, as a woman in her fifties struggles to free herself after the death of her inescapable mother. City of the Mind (1991) interweaves vignettes from London's past and present with a narrative about an architect's marriage breakdown and his hopes for a new future. Historical and contemporary concerns are again featured in Cleopatra's Sister (1993), recounting a romance between a female journalist and a palaeontologist who are drawn together in the fictional North African state of Callimbia during a time of political crisis. Lively has also written plays, screenplays, and several volumes of stories, including Pack of Cards: Stories 1978–86 (1986). Her non-fiction works include a work on landscape history, The Present and the Past (1976).

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