This is a collection of short stories, some of which were originally published in an earlier book called Nothing Missing But the Samovar (the title of the first story). This collection, with additional stories, came out eight years later, in 1986.
I've read, I think, all but one of Penelope Lively's adult books, as well as two other collections of her stories. I had an idea of what to expect with these stories, and as I read them, I found familiar Lively scenes and settings. "Interpreting the Past" is set amid an archaeological dig in an English cathedral city, with a mixed staff of amateurs and professionals. "A Clean Death" features Carol, a girl like Lively herself sent home to war-time England and a girls' school where she is very much the square peg. Two of the stories involve time-crossing, and I'm still not sure what exactly is going on in the last story, "Black Dog," but it may be a haunting.
What really surprised me is how funny some of them are. I can't remember ever laughing out loud over her stories before. "Servants Talk About People: Gentlefolk Discuss Things" has a nephew lunching with a most unobservant and self-satisfied uncle and aunt. "Customers" features a jolly couple brazenly shoplifting. "A Long Night at Abu Simbel" leaves me disinclined to ever sign up for a package tour of Egypt. "Bus-Stop" takes you on a ride through London with a brisk conductor, until a passenger boards who is horrified to find him working such a menial job. And "The Emasculation of Ted Roper" - well, that's a masterpiece of misdirection.
I really enjoyed this collection. It has everything I love in Penelope Lively's books, in a wonderful variety. Next to Nature, Art is the last book of hers that I haven't read. I still have some of her children's books to find as well, and I'm looking forward to her new book, on gardens.
I'm at the opposite end of discovering Lively from you: I've only read a few of her novels so far and just one volume of short stories (or two - what do we call Making It Up?). I love her writing and get so much pleasure from it. This, along with many other of her books, is on my list for potential reads this year (she was helpfully prolific during the 1980s, which is a difficult decade to fill for my Century of Books project) and I do hope I get to it. Having just read her latest volume of short stories last month, I was delighted by how skilled she is at them and how pleasant it is to have a collection where she can play with all her varied talents.ReplyDelete
Oh yes, you could fill up quite a few years, between her children's and adult books - and then there are her memoirs as well. I think I read those before Making It Up, but I still appreciated the brief introductions that explained how the real events went!Delete
I came to Lively through her writing for children, which is excellent and if you don’t know those books I would urge you to read them. There is the same perceptive awareness of human nature that you will find in her adult fiction. I still have some of her adult works to read and she is on my list of authors whose back catalogues I want to explore this year.ReplyDelete
I have read some of her children's books. I love The House in Norham Gardens and have been meaning to read it again. I read Going Back last year, and it absolutely gutted me. I have Astercote and The Whispering Knights still on the TBR shelves.Delete
Happy New Year, Lisa - this sounds like a greatly satisfying read to start the year. I wish I didn't keep mixing her up with Penelope Fitzgerald!ReplyDelete
I hesitate to say that I haven't read any of Penelope Fitzgerald's books!Delete
As for me, it's been too long since I read her, and there are several recent ones that I still have in view. But you're making me want to re-read this one first!ReplyDelete
I was looking over my copies last night, when I was trying to make room on the shelf for this one, and I thought it might be time to re-read According to Mark, as well as the House in Norham Gardens. She is very re-readable!Delete
I like Penelope Lively a lot, especially Making It Up. :)ReplyDelete
I love that one as well! And the story in that one about the urban archeological dig reminded me of the one in this book.Delete