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.