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Passing On

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  644 Ratings  ·  69 Reviews
Booker-Prize winning author Penelope Lively is that rare writer who goes from strength to strength in book after perfectly assured book. In Passing On, she applies her distinctive insight and consummate artistry to the subtle story of a domineering and manipulative mother's legacy to her children. With their mother's death, Helen and Edward, both middle-aged and both unmar ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published March 9th 1999 by Grove Press (first published 1989)
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Jul 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: penelope-lively
This novel is about a brother and sister, Helen and Edward Glover living in a South English village in the late 1980s. They are around fifty and have never married. We start at the funeral of their mother; she has dominated their lives and been a controlling and malign influence. Their younger sister Louise was the only one who escaped. Edward appears to be quite a neutral character, obsessed with nature and conservation. Helen, who is the main narrator has more of an edge, illustrated by her th ...more
Jan 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
What happens if a mother with a strong hold upon her two middle-aged, unmarried children, dies? In this book Penelope Lively gives us an ironical and in the meantime a bit sad view of them. As always, she uses a strong psychological approach. Both figures are a bit sad, there doesn't happen much in their lives, they still live as one did 'In the old times'. But it is only On the first view that there seems to happen not a lot. Step for step, the autor builds the psychological tense to an unexpec ...more
Emma Williams
Sep 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh wow I loved this. Searingly well-observed, so painful and so beautiful. A truly crafted novel.
Aug 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was really an interesting novel, and I enjoyed Lively's style very much. It's the first of her books that I've read and I'm very impressed.

As a psychological study of two siblings whose mother has recently died the novel succeeds wonderfully. The sister, Helen, tries to hold things together, but ends up becoming nearly obsessed with a married man. The brother, Edward, reels toward a breakdown as he attempts to cope with the realization that his life is out of whack with reality and that he'
Roger Pettit
Aug 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
"Passing On", by Penelope Lively, is a very good novel. It is perceptive and intelligent and is beautifully written. At first glance, it seems to be a very slight book. But, in fact, it packs a much greater punch than many more seemingly weighty novels. It is very English in nature: its themes are the effect of the death of a close family member on those still living; emotional and sexual repression; and the impact of wealth and of class divisions. The characterisation is excellent (apart from a ...more
Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Lively is becoming one of my favourite authors.
Tam May
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars
***Some spoilers***

I really wanted to like this book because I've heard so much about Penelope Lively as a contemporary psychological fiction writer and the blurb for this book intrigued me. It's exactly the kind of story I like, full of possibilities. Unfortunately, this book feel very short, in my eyes, on delivery.

First off, there was a lot of telling. a LOT. I realize this is partly Lively's style but I would say the majority of the book was telling. And when there was finally a rat
Dec 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Jan 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is my third reading of the lovely, slow-moving story of a middle-aged brother and sister living their lives following the death of their rude, brusque, unloving mother. The mother scoffed at them over every little thing, never praised them, bossed them and organized their lives. They are somewhat lessened by her actions, but have managed to come through with their own quiet personalities intact. They live in a Cotswold village, own their house and a piece of wilderness land attached to the ...more
Mar 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I greatly enjoyed reading this very British book that explores the lives of two intelligent but introverted people, a brother and sister, who find themselves in a position to re-invent themselves after the death of their elderly, oppressive mother. This book is much more about the understated British style of writing, sort of like a 20th century Jane Austen, than the story. The characters are ordinary people facing ordinary problems of aging, lack of money, difficult family members, and trying t ...more
Lucy Shahar
Aug 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful novel! I'm not sure I've read Penelope Lively before. She creates quirky and vulnerable characters, in this case, a middle-aged brother and sister trying to come to terms with the death of their mother, a horrible woman. A dominating and domineering personality, she injured them psychologically in many ways. They are sensitive, intelligent and hungry for love. Lovely writes with considerable insight about many of the issues we all deal with: disappointment in love, attempts at h ...more
Jan 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ebooks
I deeply enjoyed this book, which is my first introduction to Penelope Lively's world view. I want more!
Mar 05, 2014 rated it it was ok
Why are so many books by contemporary English writers so full of lonely people?
Jul 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
A deeply satisfying and moving story.
Barbara Backus
Jul 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
In this account of how a domineering parent, even after her death, continues to affect the lives of two of her middle-aged children, Penelope Lively shows how hard it is to break free from the opinions of a caustic personality. Helen and Edward, both single, continue to live their lives in the same house they shared with their mother Dorothy whose things still fill the closets and cabinets. This novel is about the damaging effects of an opinionated parent whose voice continues to determine how H ...more
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Penelope Lively is so good. I’d say this book is strong with dialogue and characters, but give it low marks for plot/slow pacing at points. I really sympathized with Helen and so wanted more for her in life.
I was conflicted about some events toward the end, with Edward - you don’t want him to suffer, yet his actions really should have been reported to authorities. Penelope Lively seemed to have little sympathy for a youngster that should not have been treated as he was, and that bothered me. the
Mary Jo
May 18, 2018 rated it liked it
I would like to give this 3 1/2 stars, 4 stars for the wonderful quality of the writing and 3 stars for my enjoyment of the book. To be honest, I didn't like of most of the characters. The topic of dealing with the passing of a hateful parent was intriguing and poignant, I just couldn't get past my negative perception of how these characters "dealt" with life. Maybe I have just had too good of a family life to be able to relate to such hatred and bitterness.
Jane Henderson
Sep 27, 2017 rated it liked it
In my opinion, this is not one of Penelope Lively's finest. As I've come to expect, the character studies are superb. But it's another "damage done by mother", this mother having passed away before the novel begins. But otherwise, in this novel, basically nothing happens.
Jean Kelly
Jun 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
A story that starts with the burial of a mother who left legacy behind of two now adult children who never left their childhood home and one who was able to. Quite moving in the portrayal of choices taken and not taken in life.
Melanie Vidrine
May 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I felt that this book was just about perfect: humorous, insightful, but primarily a truthful portrait of a parent’s effect on her children. In the last few chapters, confusion about a character’s motives annoyed me. I will not spoil the story.
Roger Boyle
Oct 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I think this was a VL recommendation.

Loved it. This book is in no sense a thriller, but I have rarely wanted to know more urgently what happens next. The people are totally believable despite their oddness, and her passion comes thorough at top volume. Beautiful wording throughout.
Apr 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Cam Mannino
May 27, 2013 rated it liked it
To enjoy Lively’s books (This is the second novel of hers I've read), I have to be ready for very real, very ordinary life drawn exquisitely in miniature. No sweeping epics. No high drama. No neat resolutions. Just as in real life, change happens in Lively's novels, but only incrementally.

This book is about an exorcism of sorts. The book opens with three grown children of a mean-spirited, dominating mother burying their parent in the graveyard of their small English village. Though unmistakably
Nov 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ath-stacks
Crinkle cover--yech. Seriously, librarians, can't you find something better than this, stuck on with grimy tape?

A beautifully constructed novel. Lively knows her business.

A staple of fiction in English: no one says what's really going on, not with themselves, and not what they observe in others. Result: often death, always unnecessary misery.

Helen, the primary POV character, doesn't tell her brother about the almost daily discoveries she makes about herself, about her mother's depredations, abou
Carol Moore
Passing On--Penelope Lively ***

This is a book about middle age. The characters felt very real. It's a good story. I'd describe it as very gentle read.

Main characters: two diffident, almost invisibly shy middle-aged people. The author’s purpose is to make your care about them, and you do.

On the surface, nothing at all happens in the very quiet country lives of Helen and Edward, a brother and sister caught in a time warp of old-fashioned Victorianism smack in the middle of the 80's in England.
Sep 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
Penelope Lively writes with grace and precision. I always feel as if I have spent time in the English countryside when I read her books, and Passing On is no exception. It is the story of three siblings who deal with the legacy left by a cold and domineering mother. Helen's attraction to a man who is unwilling to return her sentiments is poignant, as is her brother's lonely existence and reluctant acknowledgement of his homosexuality. Edward is not a particularly likeable character, and I was di ...more
May 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Helen and Edward, in mid-life, have never left home (or not for very long) and have lived - if one can call it that - under the tyranny of their domineering mother. Now dead, in fact the novel begins with her funeral, they are both tragically unprepared for independent lives. Helen rues lost opportunities whilst we suffer with Edward's tortured loneliness and homosexuality. The tenderness that Lively writes about these siblings is immensely moving and the tenuous reaching out by both Helen and E ...more
Feb 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book very much although I had tried to read it many years ago and did not find it at all interesting. It strikes me as very much 'of its time'. It was written in 1989 ( I have just checked) but in fact, I had thought it was a book written in the 1970s.
What I liked - the way the mother, who has passed on, still haunts her children, and especially her voice in the ear of her daughter. My mother died when I was 10, so I have never experienced this, but so many of the women I know se
Pat Frank
Jun 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
A wonderful read for those who appreciate quiet reads. Penelope Lively take two ordinary characters and lets you in on their secret thoughts and desires. The bother and sister are of midlle age,and have led dull lives in middle England. They are, people we have known. They are folks who never left the fold and remained with a parent, a tyranical mother whose death has freed them to finally have a life. The question is -will either of them break out from what they have known. Read it and find out ...more
Steve Mayer
Jul 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lovely quiet read about two repressed middle-aged Britons who are brother and sister. In some ways, the main character is their recently deceased mother, a difficult and emotionally cold woman. Not surprisingly her two oldest children grow up lonely and sad, while the youngest daughter rebels, moves to London, maintains a more middle-class existence, and complains about motherhood now that her two children are teenagers. An underlying theme is the wildness and moral neutrality of nature compared ...more
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Penelope Lively is the author of many prize-winning novels and short-story collections for both adults and children. She has twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize: once in 1977 for her first novel, The Road to Lichfield, and again in 1984 for According to Mark. She later won the 1987 Booker Prize for her highly acclaimed novel Moon Tiger.

Her other books include Going Back; Judgement Day; Nex
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