Penelope Lively


Making It Up


Lively executes a nice idea in her typically professional fashion.


She has always been able to draw on events and issues in her own life to create stories, but here she deliberately makes this more personal. It’s like an alternative autobiography: she experiments by looking at some key ‘sliding door’ alternatives, musing on what might have easily been her personal history if the chips had have fallen ever so slightly differently. She also steps in at the end of each story to explain the context, giving a little information on what actually happened in her life to illustrate something of the writing process for her – the mix of fact with fiction, how reality is a resource and launching point for invention.


Each vignette is capably painted with authentic characters and settings, and satisfying story arcs. I’m tempted to give it a higher rating, but this is one of those books that is undeniably good, but not particularly good for me. Perhaps there’s a control, a detachment, a reserve in Lively herself that fails to really engage me? Her musing is deftly executed, but, I suppose, all just a little low key for me. Books of hers that I have particularly enjoyed (Passing On, Moon Tiger, Heat Wave, Judgement Day) probably have more licence, moving around events that are a bit more sensational or potent.


But if you feel like musing, go for it – Lively is very good.


May 2011