Sunday, November 22, 2009

Family Album

Allersmead, a large Victorian English Manor House, emerges as the main character in Penelope Lively's latest novel of domestic reality, Family Album. It is a story about how perceptions of a family (and that family's history) differ depending on the viewpoint. The novel begs the question, what went on in Allersmead back in the 1970s when the children were younger? What secret does Allersmead hold? And how has that secret shaped the future lives of each inhabitant--a family (The Harpers) with six children and an au pair. Lively is a master of detail and dialogue, both of which contribute great insight into the unreliability of family life. Through shifting points of view and a narrative that cuts back and forth between the 1970s and the present, Lively addresses the issues and themes of the novel via 16 chapters and short, episodic flashback scenes. As the title implies, events such as birthday parties, family dinners, and vacations are recalled like random snapshots in a family album. Ron Charles, of the Washington Post, said the book is " . . . full of glancing humor and spot-on truths about the way families maintain the peace through a process of willful ignorance and disciplined forgetfulness." However, each revelation, sharpened through contrasting perspectives and shifts in time, paints a clear, compelling--and haunted--picture of family dynamics.