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A House Unlocked

3.38 of 5 stars 3.38  ·  rating details  ·  103 ratings  ·  28 reviews
In A House Unlocked, Whitbread Award- and Booker Prize-winning Penelope Lively takes us on a journey of her familial country house in England that her grandparents bought in 1923. As her narrative shifts from room to room, object to object, she paints a moving portrait of an era of rapid change -- and of the family that changed with the times. As she charts the course of t ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published April 7th 2003 by Grove Press (first published 2001)
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Truth is stranger than fiction when the walls talk in novelist Penelope Lively's memoir of her grandparents' English country house. A must-read for (in order of must-ness): 1) Fans of Lively's novels of unconventional women of old-moneyed British descent 2) old-house fanatics 3) Anglophiles 4) World-War II buffs.
I like the genre of memoirs and this one is quite original in that the intersection of personal and social history is really at the centre of the book. It is what Lively chooses to really focus on (i especially liked the way in which she accounted for the welfare state being set up at the end of the 2nd WW). I also appreciated the way it was told, each reminiscence being called into existence by the (mental) examination of a a piece of furniture/heirloom that used to belong to her grandmother's ...more
Hilary Tesh
This book requires an intelligent, thoughtful and interested response from its reader. The author's memories of her grandparents’ home, Golsoncott in Somerset, its contents and garden trigger explorations of 20th century events and the changes they brought. Rather than an autobiography, it is more a social history, a reflection that the place the author remembers as an unchanging constant haven, which is ‘now safely stashed away in the mind, complete and inviolate’, was in fact as much affected ...more
In this book Penelope Lively uses her memories of Golsoncott, her grandparent's house in Somerset to discuss social changes in England during the twentieth century. Each chapter is titled according to items in the house which Lively remembers, and these items are the starting point for the discussion. So, for example, the second chapter is entitled 'The Children on the Sampler'. It begins with a description of a fire screen which was embroidered by her grandmother, who was a very accomplished ne ...more
"Penelope Lively takes us on a journey of her familial country house in England and as her narrative moves from room to room, from object to object, she paints a moving portrait of an era of rapid change -- and of the family that changed with the times. As she charts the course of the domestic tensions of class and community among her relatives, she brings to life the effects of the horrors of the Russian Revolution and the Holocaust through portraits of the refugees who came to live with them. ...more
Penelope Lively writes well though at times she lost me particularly in the in depth garden analysis but when it comes to people I am gripped.
The main occurrences of the 20th century are covered and the impact of those changes. Strangely though it seems to be a eulogy for the love of a now dead husband who would never have entered Penelope's life if it hadn't been for those changes.

Loved the description of the once perfect garden now in a state of disrepair with nature overtaking all those year
Kayla Tornello
The author uses memories of her grandmother's house as a starting point to reminisce about earlier times. The history is interesting, but the topics ramble on a bit and are only loosely connected to each other.

I was also disappointed that there were no photographs in this book, despite its numerous references to them. I would much rather see a photo myself than to merely read a description of it.
I enjoyed this book but it was not what i expected, it was more a hotchpotch of memories some of it was more on the social history such as the wartime evacuees, the history of garden design,the change in domestic circumstances which befell big houses after the war. The author remembered particular objects from her childhood and the memories which were connected with them. The author actually grew up in Egypt and only visited her Grandmothers home Golsoncott, in Somerset, which was in her family ...more
Reflections on the social changes of the twentieth century from Penelope Lively, guided around theSomerset house where she grew up. areas highlighted include marriage, education, fox hunting and the relationship between parents and children. Considered, erudite and exttemely thought provoking.
Not my favourite Lively book, but an interesting approach to memoir.
Kirsty Darbyshire

Catching up with a big backlog of read books, hence very short writeups.

Not as good, or nearly as enthralling, as Oleander, Jacaranda, the memoir about Lively's childhood in Egypt, but still an interesting read. This bit of non fiction is basically a chat about all kinds of changes in the twentieth century presented as a ramble around her grandmother's Somerset home. It goes into a bit of a (gentlewomanly) rant in places.

I had hoped for a memoir to follow Oleander Jacaranda about the author's childhood in Cairo, but this book is a collection of essays about life as seen through her eyes when visiting her grandmother's house in Suffolk. She writes about the changes in society, in expectations during the 20th century. The next to last chapter has the most about her own life although all the essays do include some personal stories. It is, of course, elegantly written.
I bought this for my Kindle because I was desperate for something to read RIGHT NOW, and I’ve enjoyed the work of Penelope Lively before. I expected her story of the old family house to be as charming and absorbing as her novels are. Yawn. Was I wrong. She drones on and on about various aspects of English history only tenuously connected to the house. I quit less than halfway through, leaving my empty boots mired in the mud.
Ronda Parsons
This book is so beautifully written and the premise so interesting to me that I just had to give it four stars. Ms. Lively explores her family home in Somerset England after 100 years of habitation and uses its objects to relate the social and political history of the past century. Highlights include class distinctions, church-going and the roles of men and women. Very enjoyable and thought provoking.
Christopher Roth
Fascinating reading. My biggest complaint is that, for a memoir that is centered so closely on memories and digressions inspired by old photographs, we don't get to actually see the photos.
The author traces English social history via her family's country house. Architecture, objects and the landscape reflect vast changes in religiosity, gender and class roles, marriage, gardening, rambling, town/county, children, wars and manners. Fascinating way to examine a family's history within that of the entire society.
This book was so dull I couldnt finish it. The book starts with a description of the hallway and doesnt get much better. If your connected in anyway the the author or ever lived in the house you may have a glimmer of interest in reading more. If you read for pleasure or entertainment this offers neither
Lively is a wonderfully subtle and interesting writer. Her characters ring true and the path of her narratives make wonderful sense. I will read more of her writing and she has many books under her belt. Her latest, "how It All Began" is going on my to-read list.
Another Penelope Lively...For all who are interested in history - in this book post war and WWII England..It's non fiction but so interesting, because the author writes from her own childhood perspective and family.
It's a house tour through history..
Stephanie Householder Walker
Lively's prose is rambling and relatively uneventful. This memoir devoted too many pages to descriptions of rare flowers, and not enough to the life of the author. However, it does offer a unique perspective on life in upper-crust English society.
Nostalgic unspooling of memories as the author takes the reader on a mental walk through her family's estate long after it has gone out of their hands if I recall this correctly -- I loved the way she did this.
Interesting and illuminating but somewhat dry with desciptions, explanations. However, I LOVE Lively's writing so it was a "good read!"
Donna Lewis
It was a bit hard to get through, and unfortunately I gave up to pick up something more exciting/interesting.
Donna Peake
This narrator is full of knowledge. Loved hearing about the church and Alice in Wonderland.
An intriguing way to write both history and autobiography.
Shonna Froebel
Interesting premise of rooms relating to memories
couldn't finish
Marianne marked it as to-read
Jan 19, 2015
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Penelope Lively CBE (born March 17, 1933) is a prolific, popular and critically acclaimed author of fiction for both children and adults. She has been shortlisted three times for the Booker Prize, winning once for Moon Tiger in 1987.

Born in Cairo in 1933, she spent her early childhood in Egypt, before being sent to boarding school in England at the age of twelve. She read Modern History at St Anne
More about Penelope Lively...
Moon Tiger How It All Began The Photograph Family Album Consequences

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