Penelope Lively

Penelope Lively’s diary: My old-age MOT

My surgery has been calling in all those over 75 for a special session with their doctor — a sort of old-age MOT. I came out of mine pretty well, I thought: I could remember the name of the Prime Minister, blood pressure excellent, spark plugs need cleaning, windscreen wipers ineffective, bodywork showing signs of

The Unknown Bridesmaid, by Margaret Forster – review

The power of the past, the directive hand of childhood: the themes of The Unknown Bridesmaid are familiar fictional territory. But Margaret Forster has a deft and idiosyncratic touch in this story of child psychologist Julia, whose young clients reflect the trauma of her own early years. Sessions with Camilla, Precious, Janice, Claire and others

Being Sam Frears, by Mary Mount

Sam Frears is 40. He has an extremely rare condition called familial dysautonomia, or Riley-Day syndrome; the life expectancy for most babies born with this is five years. Mary Mount has made her account of what it is like to be Sam a short impressionistic chronicle, interspersed with comments from his mother, Mary-Kay Wilmers. The

Bookends: Deftly orchestrated chaos

The headings set the scene: ‘Last Tango in Balham, in which I meet Marlon Brando on the dance floor of Surbiton Assembly Rooms but thankfully do not have to do anything with packet of country life.’ The essential premise in Melissa Kite’s breezy new collection Real Life: One Woman’s Guide to Love, Men and Other

His own best story

A biography that is also a collaboration with its subject is something of a novelty. Here, Maggie Fergusson writes the life, while Michael Morpurgo contributes seven stories, each springing from the subject matter of the preceding section. Fergusson has previously written an excellent biography of George Mackay Brown, so has now moved from a detached

Ladies, you don’t want to go back there

In 2009 a magazine survey found that many women in their twenties wanted to stay at home baking while their husbands went out to work: ‘I’d love to be a captive wife.’ Jessica Mann’s thoughtful and emphatic book is a riposte to this, an overview of the Fifties, which she calls a polemic and a

Far from close

In 1598, a certain Margaret Browne of Houndsditch gave a graphic description to the court of her neighbour Clement Underhill engaged in an adulterous act with her lover, as observed through a hole in the party wall. Some people have always been very interested in what the neighbours are up to; all of us can

The choppy sea of family life

This is a lovely book. Judy Golding writes of her father —indeed of both her parents — with candour, humour and great insight and perception This is a lovely book. Judy Golding writes of her father —indeed of both her parents — with candour, humour and great insight and perception. More than that, here is

Shop till you drop

Within the past month I have been to an 80th and a 90th birthday lunch, both of them highly festive occasions. And now here is an entertaining, erudite and thought-provoking meditation on the matter of age by Jane Miller (aged 78). The so-called twilight years are no longer quite that, for some of us. This

Officers, if not gentlemen

The execution for desertion of a young officer during the first world war goes disastrously wrong. What exactly happened? Who was there, and why have some of those involved met untimely deaths? This is the crux of a novel that is a marriage of who-done-it and commentary on the class-ridden attitudes of the early 20th

A ghastly crew | 6 October 2007

Jennifer Johnston is adept at economy. Here is a short novel in which the eight characters are introduced one by one, with minimum fuss — some dialogue, a brief reference by someone else — and their complex relationships obliquely revealed. Complex indeed are these connections. ‘I am gay, bent, queer, homosexual, call it what you

As entertaining as ever

Fifty-two-year-old Alan Mackenzie has been in severe and unrelenting pain for 16 months, having slipped a disc during a game of volleyball. No one has been able to alleviate his condition, not ‘four physical therapists, three ortho-paedic surgeons, two neurologists and an acupuncturist in a pear tree’. He no longer expects to get better, and