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Making it Up

3.47  ·  Rating Details ·  486 Ratings  ·  91 Reviews
Hailed by critics as a benchmark in a career full of award-winning achievements, Making It Up is Penelope Lively's answer to the oft-asked question, "How much of what you write comes from your own life?" What if Lively hadn't escaped from Egypt, her birthplace, at the outbreak of World War II? What would her life have been like if she'd married someone else? From a hillsid ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published September 26th 2006 by Penguin Books (first published July 5th 2005)
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Hugh
Aug 25, 2016 Hugh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit, read-2016
Lively describes this book as "an exercise in confabulation". Each chapter starts with a key decision that affected the path her life took, and builds a counterfactual story imagining what might have been had things turned out slightly differently. This is a fascinating premise for a book, and it gives her the latitude to showcase many different kinds of writing, some serious, for example the chapter in which her husband is sent to the Korean war before they met, and others humorous, such as the ...more
Roger Brunyate
An Anti-Memoir
To write fiction is to make a succession of choices, to send the narrative and the characters in one direction rather than another. Story is navigation: successful story is the triumphant progress down exactly the right paths, avoiding the dead ends, the unsatisfactory turns. Life, of course, is not at all like that. There is no shrewd navigator, just a person's own haphazard lurching from one decision to another. Which is why life so often seems to lack the authenticity of fictio
...more
Philippa
Aug 04, 2010 Philippa rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2010
I think to some extent most writers use their own lives, or those of people they know, as inspiration for their work, but Penelope Lively is open about this in this book, and presents a collection of stories as fiction but has side notes to them in her own voice, telling us what foundations the story had in reality and how she embellished it. She tells us of chances she never took, roads not travelled, and imagined different outcomes for things she may or may not have experienced. As I am doing ...more
Sian Jones
I feel as if someone has been hiding Penelope Lively from me. I know that can't be true -- but, based on this collection of short stories, I feel as if she's up there with Alice Munro and Andrea Barrett, and as such, someone really should have been forcing her work into my hands before now, for my own good. The short stories in this collection are literary without being lifeless, precise and deeply human, and the framing device -- small essays about the decision point in her own life she's playi ...more
B the BookAddict
Oct 06, 2013 B the BookAddict rated it really liked it
Recommended to B the BookAddict by: Goodreads
Shelves: fiction


In this novel (novella) Lively tells stories of parts of her life that weren't, well, parts of her life at all. She is 'making it up' hence the title. She states emphatically “This book is fiction. If anything, it is an anti-memoir.” In this book, she takes certain times in her life then crafts a fiction around characters which are neither her nor resemble her. It is sectioned into chapters: Mozambique Channel, The Albert Hall, The Temple of Mithras, Imjin River, Transatlantic, Comet, Number Twe
...more
Cecily
Jul 15, 2008 Cecily rated it really liked it
Confabulations. Exploring turning points in her life and how her life might have been if she'd taken a different turning, eg if when fleeing Egypt, they'd gone to S Africa instead of Palestine then England, if she'd got pregnant when young and single. Each self-contained diversion is opened and closed with the real life context. Clever concept, well executed.

Jeanne
Feb 16, 2015 Jeanne rated it liked it
Does anyone know of other authors/books that have used this alternative approach or written what Lively calls an "anti-memoir?" What a clever idea, embellished by Lively's vivid imagination. I'm sure that many of us have often thought, "what if..."
Terry
Jan 31, 2015 Terry rated it liked it
I love this writer. Her voice, the play on 'hinges', those paths that could take us in different directions during life. This book, however, was a bit tedious for me. I think because I loved Moon Tiger so much. However, well worth reading just for the story titled 'Comet'. This story was tremendous and reminded me of why I love her.
Leigh
Oct 05, 2011 Leigh rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2005
Really cool concept - not a memoir. What she does instead is look back on various points in her life when she could have taken a different path and writes a fictional sketch. For example, at one point during her Oxford years, she meets an American professor who encourages her to apply to grad school in the States. She didn't; she stayed in Oxford and met her husband, but she imagines a woman who has been away from England for so long that it is no longer home, visiting with her American husband. ...more
William
Sep 22, 2014 William rated it really liked it
Not nearly Lively's best work, but her average work is still better than most writers can produce. I would have rated this 3.5 stars if that option were available. This is an interesting approach, a creative sort of partial autobiography. The reader does end up knowing her better, in a way which reminds me of "Olive Kitteredge." The glimpses here and there do create at least parts of a persona.

The eight stories in the book are not equally successful. I liked "Transatlantic," "Comet" and "Number
...more
Mark Speed
The first, and only, book I've ever bought by this author. I bought it because it was recommended, and she was doing a talk at the Royal Society of Literature, which I'd just joined.

I was pretty disappointed when matching it against the expectations built up from the reviews. I don't think it would have got a look in from the slush pile had it not been from a famous novelist.

A reasonably good idea, but the stories weren't particularly compelling or interesting. I guess if you're the author, or a
...more
Cara
May 12, 2010 Cara rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is such a unique book! I've never read anything remotely like it before. Each chapter is a philosophical and imaginative exercise in how our choices affect the course of our lives and the lives of the people we interact with. The book is a series of vignettes taken from the life of the author, but an exploration of what would have occurred if she had made different choices than she did in reality, and she rarely takes the starring role in this "anti-memoir".
Kelli
Oct 28, 2011 Kelli rated it it was amazing
I love the way Penelope writes. I write stories (some day to be the next great American novel!)all the time and they all start with some situation I am in or am observing and it used to be difficult to get far enough outside them to disguise the characters from people who might recognize themselves. AFter reading "Making it up" I see how much fun it is to RUN away with a subject.
Yvonne
Apr 25, 2009 Yvonne rated it really liked it
Maybe I liked this so much because I like Penelope Lively so much. But the idea alone is a great one, not to mention the execution. She imagines how her life might have been, if chance had put her in harms way as a child, or if she had taken a different path as a graduate student. Being a fan made these turns of fancy more fun for me to read perhaps.
Debbie
Jul 25, 2015 Debbie rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned, loathed
Gave up in the middle of the first story. The author’s style, though deft, didn’t engage me. Ironic that someone named Lively could write something so slow and uninteresting. The language is too controlled, detached, reserved, and low key—all translating to extremely boring. A huge disappointment. Have trouble understanding why it got such glowing reviews.
Kit
Sep 15, 2014 Kit rated it really liked it
Penelope Lively is one of those wonderful names and one of those wonderful English authors who writes novels that are sometimes too too depressing and others that are quite, well, lively.

Making It Up (2005)is a series of stories about "what might have happened in my life if..." for instance, "if the boat on which I was escaping Cairo with my mother when the Germans were marching in during World War II had sunk?" or "if my husband had been killed and I'd never met him?" She briefly introduces ea
...more
Lee
Apr 22, 2014 Lee rated it really liked it
Penelope Lively is a gifted storyteller and this book of short stories is no exception. The unique thing about it is that she uses the book as a meditation on writing fiction which makes this a particularly good read. Each story starts with some "nonfiction" italicized text about her life and what might have been if .... The reader can then see how she used her own experience as a spring board for the fiction story. Following each story is more italicized text in which she reflects on fiction vs ...more
Kate
Jan 09, 2011 Kate rated it liked it
Great idea, and well done. But the only story I liked deeply was the first one.
Kate
May 01, 2013 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013
"Making It Up is Penelope Lively's answer to the oft-asked question,'How much of what you write comes from your own life?' What if she hadn't escaped from Egypt, her birthplace, at the outbreak of World War II? What would her life have been like if she'd married someone else? From a hillside in Italy to an archaeological dig, the author explores the stories that could have been hers, fashioning a sublime and dexterous dance between reality and imagination that confirms her reputation as a singul ...more
Trish
Dec 09, 2007 Trish rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Penelope Lively begins with an ingenious premise and takes it in unexpected directions. Making It Up draws inspiration from what must be one of the top five questions heard by writers: How much of this story is true? To what extent do writers simply cannibalize their own lives, transcribing actual experience, stealing not just the words from the mouths of friends and family members but the actual friends and family members? To what extent is fiction "true" to the experience of a writer's life?

I
...more
Talia
Jun 27, 2011 Talia rated it really liked it
"Making It Up" would be a great book choice for a long weekend at the cabin.

The short story format (8 in all) makes book easy to pick up and set down (and think about, and re-read, and then come back again...).

My favorites of the series:

(1) The Mozambique Channel (About falling in love on a ship that is fleeing a war: "She felt these days as though she were two people; there was this new self, who lived differently, for whom each morning were a rich, fresh realization, and there was the old Sh
...more
Chris Chanona
Feb 03, 2015 Chris Chanona rated it it was ok
I was looking forward to reading this book as I liked the idea of 'What if?' things had been different, another road, another day, another man...

I was, however, deeply disappointed. I found it difficult to keep interest in some of the stories and skipped one after a few paragraphs (Imjin River). The strongest for me were Mozambique Channel, Transatlantic, and Comet.

Well written throughout but ultimately non-engaging at many points.
Megan Bromley
Feb 18, 2016 Megan Bromley rated it liked it
I like the premise of this book - a fictional fleshing-out of the "might have been" paths in Lively's life - but each exploration (roughly the length of a long short story) failed to dazzle in the manner I expect of this author's work. It was interesting without being riveting, and I confess that I stopped just over halfway through as it felt somehow disloyal to one of my favorite authors to become increasingly disinterested as I read.
Annemariem
Jun 17, 2014 Annemariem rated it liked it
Interesting twist on the autobiography: Penelope Lively takes pivotal moments from her past and weaves a story around 'The Other Choice', or one of the other choices at least. This results in an interesting collection of short stories, which are wedged between an introduction and a conclusion based on real life. Explaining the relevance of the story to the actual life lived.

Interesting concept. Interesting stories.
Jane Louis-Wood
This collection of short stories, forming a series of what might-have-been autobiography, interleaved with actual recollections, was lauded as ground-breaking when it was published, but I found it leaden and unconvincing and abandoned it halfway. I might have liked it much more if I had read a few years ago, but this compares very unfavourably to the sparkling richness of Kate Atkinson on the same theme.
CuteBadger
Sep 01, 2016 CuteBadger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book cover calls this a "fictional autobiograph" which takes points in the author's life as jumping off points to examine what might have been had she made different decisions or been exposed to different influences. It feels more like a set of short stories rather than a novel or autobiography but is none the worse for that. Would recommend.
Blaire
Jul 10, 2015 Blaire rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, short-stories
Unusual in concept and very well-executed. Is it a memoir or is it a book of short stories? It's both! Penelope Lively is a sly-boots indeed, and at times is very funny in a dry sort of way. The writing is, as usual, superb, and I really enjoyed the format. I don't know why I don't read this author more often.
Intentional Jen
Nov 21, 2011 Intentional Jen rated it it was amazing
Penelope Lively has the gift of story telling in this marvelous volume of short stories. As she says "This book is fiction. If anything, it is an anti-memoir. My life serves at the prompt" where she writes alternate stories about her life. It is like a "What if..." What if I were to have moved to the United States... What if I were to die...

Ingenious, if you ask me. It makes me want to write all of the "What ifs" for my life.

There is a food scene in each story!

"We went for a picnic up in the Moq
...more
AdultFiction Teton County Library
Teton County Library Call No: F Lively P
Cindy's Rating: 5 stars

If you enjoy reading Alice Munro's fiction you just might like Penelope Lively's short stories. While Munro's characters are often altered by chance encounters and random decisions sending them down strange and perilous new roads, Penelope Lively explores the paths not taken.
"Somehow, choice and contingency have landed you where you are, and the whole process seems so precarious that you look back at those climatic moments when thing
...more
Bookmarks Magazine

One feels certain that had Lively not insisted on framing these tales with the stories of their real-life origin, the critical reaction would have tilted higher. As it is, she's delivered a hybrid collection__what she calls an "anti-memoir"__that confounds the issue. Most critics find the fiction perfectly engaging, as would befit a former winner of the Booker Prize (for Moon Tiger, 1987). But where curiosity or voyeuristic thirst might be slaked by the view into Lively's studio, the overall eff

...more
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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
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