The Photograph
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The Photograph

3.25 of 5 stars 3.25  ·  rating details  ·  2,894 ratings  ·  420 reviews
Searching through a little-used cupboard at home, Glyn Peters chances upon a photograph he has never seen before. Taken in high summer, it shows his wife, Kath, holding hands with another man. Glyn's work as a historian should have inured him to unexpected findings and reversals, but he is ill-prepared for this radical shift in perception.
Paperback, 236 pages
Published January 29th 2004 by Penguin Books, Limited (UK) (first published 2003)
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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...more

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...more
May 23, 2007 Lisa rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.

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...more
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...more
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
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....more
hours of my life I'll never get back
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...more
NC Weil
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
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...more
Lori Anderson
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Marie cuatt
Jan 16, 2008 Marie cuatt rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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...more
The premise of the novel sounds like a prompt from an undergraduate fiction workshop: "Someone finds a photograph that changes everything." And as for the execution, this is not a book for people interested in plot or action. There isn't much as far as plot or forward momentum. A lot of what happens is in the form of revealed backstory.

This is a novel about character, though. This is a novel in which a lot of flawed people make questionable choices, and about the power of one person to captivate...more
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 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans only
I didnt really enjoy this. The style of writing was uninspiring and I found the whole thing quite boring.
This is the story of a beautiful, charming, popular, kind woman whom everyone loved and a stranger she never met. After she dies those closest to her discover that though they think they know who she was they haven't a clue. Virtual strangers knew her better than her own husband and sister.

Several years after Cath dies, a mysterious picture is found by her husband giving proof that she had an affair with her sister's husband. This seems so unlike Cath and the photograph sends Glynn, Cath's husb...more
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...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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...more
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...more
Jun 17, 2012 Jenni rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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...more
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: within marriages, between sisters, and at the heart of an affair. Kath, with her mesmerizing looks and casual ways, moves like a...more
When Glyn Peters discovers a sealed envelope labelled "Don't Open--Destroy", he opens it to find a photo of his wife holding hands with her sister's husband. The photo is a candid that clearly caught what was meant to be a private, intimate moment, and Glyn finds that he no longer can trust what he thought he knew about his wife. He becomes obsessed with learning about his wife's secret life, and finding out if she had other affairs.

Of course this quest has a ripple effect on others. His wife's...more
A subtle and intricately layered examination of the mystery of one woman's life. You never hear from the woman herself; she only appears in memories of those who knew her. By the end, each memory has captured her so expertly you feel as if she spoke, as if she told you hersef her innermost thoughts and dreams. She appears more real and fully fleshed than those who evoke her.

I sat back amazed at the skillful writing and plotting. How did the author take me from not liking her much to feeling like...more
Erica Verrillo
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...more
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
Barbara Bryant
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...more
This was a slow-going, dense story but worth the reading. It certainly wasn't a feel-good story, but it made you think about how you treat the ones you love. Kath is the center of this book. Incredibly beautiful, everyone who saw her (especially men) fell in love with her. When the story opens, she has already died but you don't know how. Her husband discovers a photo of her and her brother-in-law that has been hidden in a book. It is clear from the photo that the two have shared an intimate rel...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
More about Penelope Lively...
Moon Tiger How It All Began Family Album Consequences The Ghost of Thomas Kempe

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“My understanding of the past has been savagely undermined.” 7 likes
“A stone has been cast into the reliable immutable pond of the past, and as the ripples subside everything appears different. The reflections are quite other; everything has swung and shattered, it is all beyond recovery” 4 likes
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