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The Photograph

3.31  ·  Rating Details ·  3,956 Ratings  ·  555 Reviews
Booker Prize-winning novelist Penelope Lively's latest masterpiece opens with a snapshot: Kath, before her death, at an unknown gathering, holding hands with a man who is not her husband. The photograph is in an envelope marked "DON'T OPEN - DESTROY." But Kath's husband does not heed the warning, embarking on a journey of discovery that reveals a tight web of secrets: with ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published May 25th 2004 by Penguin Books (first published 2003)
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Aug 11, 2014 Melki rated it really liked it
Imagine the audacity of an author, writing a book containing not a single likable character. Who would have the nerve, the balls to do that?

Penelope Lively, that's who, and her little venture has paid off handsomely in a well-crafted, absorbing book, full of scoundrels and harpies, that makes you pay attention to these people, even as your fingers throb with the desire to throttle them.

Glyn discovers a photo of his late wife. She is clasping hands with another man. It is a picture of thinly disg
May 23, 2007 Lisa rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: not many
While the premise was totally interesting, the implementation of it was NOT. Plot was meandering (not in a good way), characters were almost all unsympathetic, and it was just sort of boring overall. I did read it and finish it, but only because I was on a 13-hour flight and had nothing better to do! Not horrible, but not as entertaining as I'd like a book to be.
Sep 04, 2007 Mark rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction

Thank you, thank you, Penelope Lively. At a time when I really needed a good writer to tell a good story about real grown-ups dealing with real situations, this novel came along.

At the outset, landscape historian Glyn is rummaging around for a paper he needs and finds an old photograph kept by his wife, who had died some years before. In it, she is seen surreptitiously holding hands with his brother-in-law, Nick. This starts him out on a journey to discover what was going on, and more importantl
Mar 31, 2008 Kate rated it did not like it
I looked forward with great anticipation to Penelope Lively's The Photograph. I believe it was selected for Today's Book Club, and most reviews have been very favorable. I must admit that I was highly saddened. I rarely discover a book I don't enjoy at least in some aspects, but I must say this one is an exception…I read the first few chapters, then thumbed through the rest, eager to find something that would peek my curiosity, really anything, that might capture my attention, but it in no way h ...more
Nov 10, 2007 Julie rated it liked it
This book won the Booker Prize, so I sort of expected a little more. It was an engaging enough read, but I figured out the great revelation of the book halfway through and then just had to wait to get there. Most of the characters spend the book gradually realizing how self-absorbed they are, which is sort of the message of the book, but I found their self-absorption so annoying that I felt like I couldn't appreciate the lesson.
Sep 29, 2012 Ramona rated it really liked it

The Photograph was one of those books that initially it may appear to be somewhat dull and boring, but what a great read it turned out to be. Penelope does a great character study of Kath and the impact that those around her had on her life. In the process she gives us extensive background & in depth insight into the characters of each of these people. There’s Glyn, the husband; Elaine, the sister; Polly, the niece; Nick, the brother-in-law; Oliver, the
Jan 23, 2008 Diane rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I like most all books by Penelope Lively. This is a good story, well told with some disturbing things to think about. She explores the way we see and know and don't know those closest to us. It was disturbing to think that perhaps I am also more interested in myself than in the people I love so they are only out of focus pictures rather than real people.

Glyn discovers a photograph that indicates that his wife Kath, who died young about 10 years previously, had had an affair with his brother-in-l
Jun 14, 2009 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2009
This book's central McGuffin, the discovery of a decade-old photograph showing that Kate (now dead) had an affair with her sister's husband, didn't seem all that promising to me. But Penelope Lively's exploration of the repercussions of this discovery is brilliantly done - the characters and their reactions ring true, the writing is beautiful. Lively is particularly good at capturing the messiness of people's emotional lives.

This book hits on all three cylinders - characters, plot, and writing.
Mar 03, 2009 Lauren rated it did not like it
hours of my life I'll never get back
NC Weil
Feb 28, 2013 NC Weil rated it it was amazing
Shelves: british-lit
Penelope Lively is the most precise writer since Henry James. Where he carries the reader to the heart of his observation in a closing spiral of phrases set off by commas, Lively offers carefully-spun details, the particulars of work and relationships. And where James offers a Pointillist view of his subject, those dots of deliberately expressed color coalescing at a distance into an image, Lively weaves in tapestry fashion - these threads, these shadings - from which patterns emerge, become viv ...more
Nov 08, 2009 Shannon rated it liked it
I picked this book up because it was the right length for my recent flight. I had no expectations and had not read this author previously.

Glyn finds a photograph of his dead wife and it changes everything for him. As he slowly investigates the implications of the photo, a picture of his wife gradually develops and grows slowly coming into a more perfect focus.

The novel is at once spare in its exploration of the meaning of the life of the central character, Kath, who is the only voice missing fro
Dec 05, 2015 Hugh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit, read-2016
Penelope Lively's books are always a pleasure to read, and this is a beautifully constructed and moving novel. The emotional centre of the book is Kath, who is now dead. Her husband finds a photograph of her which reveals an affair with her brother-in-law, and the story follows the upheavals of the various protagonists as they are forced to adjust their memories and feelings, discovering that none of them really knew her.
Aug 27, 2009 Bonnie rated it it was amazing
This book currently has a 3.12 reading on GR, which usually would make me avoid it like the plague. I actually don't remember how it got onto my TBR list, but I'm incredibly happy I gave it a chance.

I could see how people would hate this: there's no plot. Okay, there's obviously a plot, but the point of this book is far and away NOT the plot. All told, the plot is: lively, charismatic Kath is dead and her husband finds a photograph while looking through her papers that shows that she had an affa
Erica Verrillo
Oct 20, 2012 Erica Verrillo rated it really liked it
This is a book you will either love or hate. I did both. The beginning was so painfully slow that I was often tempted to put it down. And, if I hadn't read Moon Tiger first (a truly brilliant novel), I might have simply given up. But, somewhere around the fourth chapter, the characters pulled me in.

The Photograph is, first and foremost, a character study. The protagonist, a beautiful, whimsical creature with the unfortunate name of Kath, is dead. Many years after her death, her husband, Glyn, fi
Barbara Bryant
Apr 15, 2012 Barbara Bryant rated it liked it
Okay, I think Penelope Lively is quite a good writer, based on her reputation and the two books I have read by her. She is British, which makes the surroundings fun and a little different for the reader, and this book is supposed to be, perhaps, her best.
I rambled through the early chapters rather impatiently, enjoying the writing but not really interested, until the characters started to react to the main event--the finding of an old photograph that pictures the now-dead Kath, a married woman a
Aug 17, 2011 Ellen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The discovery of an incriminating photograph that indicates that a deceased wife had had an affair with her brother-in-law sets her husband off to find out more about the affair, about his wife in general, and whether she was really unfaithful to him and, if so, was this the only time. The consequences of his actions affect the dead woman's sister and her husband, their daughter, and others as Glyn pursues the truth with the persistence of a dog searching for a lost bone.

Lively's prose in this n
Marie cuatt
Jan 16, 2008 Marie cuatt rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: no one
Recommended to Marie by: Women In Literature facilitator
Kind of a mystery. The husband of the deseased finds picture of his wife and a group of family and friends. The wife is holding the hand of her brother-in-law in and intimate way (??)
The photo is taken of the rear of the group (so secretive
intimate way) Solving the "crime" all the character defects of the family members and aquaintances hang out all over the place. All the while the lovely,lively and delightful deseased flits in and out of their memories for long episodes (sometime pages)
The hus
Mar 03, 2013 Sherry rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-this-year
Beautifully written with an intriguing premise. A husband finds a photo of his deceased wife which he has never seen before. Nothing unusual about the photo until he examines it closer and sees that she's holding hands with her sister's husband. The mystery of this photograph and the emotions it brings forth causes him to investigate further - leading him to his final discovery and the mystery surrounding her death. A spell binding book about secrets and how little we really know about those clo ...more
Sep 28, 2007 Cecelia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The redeeming quality of this book was that it had excellent character development. But I'm not sure the characters were excellent enough to cover up the fact that basically nothing happened in the whole book. I need at least a little plot to stay interested.
Sep 23, 2008 Melody rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: fans only
I didnt really enjoy this. The style of writing was uninspiring and I found the whole thing quite boring.
Pat Steinkuehler
Dec 12, 2015 Pat Steinkuehler rated it really liked it
An intriguing beginning, a plausible middle, a disappointing ending. Beautifully written, though.
Nov 30, 2010 Patrick rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed Lively's excellent writing style. I think the English are really masters of writing characters of omission. In that way, this book is similar to Ishiguro's Remains of the Day. Whereas we learn about Kath through the other characters in the book and the way they saw her and reacted toward her, the Remains of the Day was a masterpiece because we found out about the real story through impressions that were left unsaid.

At its essence, this book is about love and what happens to one who ye
Mar 16, 2017 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Soul wrenching

At first glance, this appears to be a straightforward book but as you enter into the world occupied by Glyn, Elaine, Nick, Polly and Oliver, you get a very different sense. It is told by the different characters, each reliving the time they spent with the departed Kath, and we see her through their eyes and with their perspective. It's a book about how we think we know what we are seeing and experiencing but how appearances can be deceptive. It's also about love, in all its forms.
Oct 05, 2009 Jeni rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 25, 2007 Marigold rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The purpose of a book is not merely to entertain us for a few moments, but to leave us something lasting to think about, or questions to ask within our own lives. On the surface, this is a family melodrama about a dead woman & the effect her life has on those around her – most of which they don’t realize until a lost photograph resurfaces, exposing secrets & changing their lives. Lively does a masterful job of making the dead Kath the central, most interesting, and most lovable character ...more
Nancy Baker
Oct 02, 2014 Nancy Baker rated it liked it
A 10-year widower (Glyn), while looking for something packed away in boxes, uncovers an envelope marked "do not open - destroy". Not recognizing it, he did what any person would do - he opened it. Inside is a photograph of his late wife (Kath), her sister (Elaine), Elaine's husband (Nick) and a few other friends. Glyn is NOT in the picture. The photograph shows his wife and Nick standing in the midst of the group picture, but their entwined hands and flushed faces were not as invisible to the ca ...more
Sarah B.
Apr 16, 2009 Sarah B. rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
A photograph from the past prompts characters to explore different perspectives of their lives and relationships, one after the other, weaving a story. Interactions between various characters progress and over-lay each other until the book culminates in revelations for not only the characters, but the reader as well.

Originally I thought I'd give this 2 stars because I personally found the story terribly depressing--it's a study of various relationships with a chronic lack of connection. However
Jun 17, 2012 Jenni rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: lovers of Anita Brookner, Lee Smith
Recommended to Jenni by: an old Wash Post review
A slowly unwinding discovery--which creates a very satisfying read. Great writing, though I did not do a lot of underlining.

Structure: Shifting narratives of several flawed protagonists.

Setup: Kath's husband Glyn discovers a damning photo years after her death. Three families are impacted by the subsequent "research": Glyn and Kath; Elaine, Nick and their daughter Polly; Oliver and Sandra. Each of them (well, except Kath) share their view of what happened originally and what is going on now th
Lori Anderson
Dec 29, 2011 Lori Anderson rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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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
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“My understanding of the past has been savagely undermined.” 10 likes
“Behind and byond her looks,her manner, there had been some dark malaise. But nobody ever saw it, back then, he thought. All you saw was her face.” 7 likes
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