11 thoughts on “The trouble with Penelope Lively: Oleander, Jacaranda

  1. This is a wonderful description of Lively at her best. Thank you. And you’re right that there’s something important missing from Moon Tiger. Have you read yet Dancing Fish and Ammonites? and her other memoirs? She loves memoir; memoir loves her. I’ve begun to dare to think her nonfiction is actually better than her fiction.

    And where is the right place for me to ask you if you think Monica Dickens read Angela Thirkell?–and, if she did, what she got out of it?

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    1. I had no idea that she’s written more memoir, but I will certainly look out for them: thanks!

      Monica Dickens and Thirkell: that combination had never occured to me; but you’re right, they’re the same period, and MD must have read AT, and possibly also the other way around. AT was such a snob, and a Dickensian, she would probably have been keen to have known or met MD if she got the chance. But I cannot think of elements in MD’ books (though I haven’t read many) that could have been influenced by AT, but it’s something to bear in mind, certainly.

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      1. Maybe the problem with Moon Tiger is that it feels obligatory but not necessary, as though Lively is filling out some outline that doesn’t truly compel her. Why bother?

        Lively’s memoirs after Oleander, Jacaranda: A House Unlocked (2001–if historical/social context is where you’re at) and Dancing Fish and Ammonites (2013–even the archaeological context, which is where she’s at).

        Monica Dickens was 25 years younger than Thirkell, and she began by trying to reject her own class position in order to have an interesting life (One Pair of Hands, 1939)–very much NOT Thirkell’s style. In Joy and Josephine (1948), Dickens’s heroine spends the novel exploring the class ‘opportunities’ available to her in order to find out who she is. (It’s a funny book–if you don’t know it–fierce at times, and bumptious. Of course it goes sentimental. And it exalts Coincidence.) You may feel she’s read Thirkell, learned her best comic tricks, then flipped them for her own purposes.

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  2. Oh would love to read this one! You have written the review wonderfully. I read moon tiger recently and loved it. A House Unlocked is also autobiographical but Lively narrates everything with regard to this house in Golsoncott.


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