There is nothing cosy about Penelope Lively

At one time, Penelope Lively was routinely shortchanged by critics. Her protagonists are often middle-class professionals — historians, archeologists, scriptwriters and the like — and her Booker-prizewinning Moon Tiger was notoriously dismissed as the ‘housewife’s choice’. Now, gods, stand up for housewives! Lively is not a cosy read. The word which keeps coming to mind to describe these stories is ‘beady’ — though I may be influenced by ‘The Purple Swamp Hen’, in which the narrator is a wise old bird in the garden of a household in Pompeii (AD 79). A bird’s gaze is bright, speculative and disconcertingly dispassionate. Ted Hughes found the ‘attent sleek thrushes on the lawn’