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The House in Norham Gardens

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  299 ratings  ·  40 reviews
The carved shield she finds in the attic, brought from New Guinea years ago, causes fourteen-year-old Clare disturbing dreams.
Paperback, 160 pages
Published May 16th 1994 by Mammoth (first published 1974)
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Average rating 3.90  · 
Rating details
 ·  299 ratings  ·  40 reviews

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Jan 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: yellow black and red
Recommended to Mariel by: white skies press down on the city
Clare, her hands in the pockets of her school coat, her face stinging from the cold, moved slowly round the church, staring at one inscription after another, giving her attention to the whole chronicle of wood merchants, burghers and benefactors of the poor, of husbands and fathers, wives, mothers and children. She felt an obligation to listen. It would be nice, she thought, to be a person living in this place and sit every Sunday beside these names, especially if maybe they were the same as you
Jun 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: children
While idly reading sections of the book, "Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children's Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper" by Charles Butler, I became intrigued with his account of Penelope Lively's interest in how layers of peoples and ages appear in the landscape, and of interpreting the past through examination of these layers. Butler calls this "applied archeology". Here is Butler's comment on Lively's "The House in Norham Gardens": ...more
Quite possibly the best book I will read all year, with a wonderful main character, two forgetful aunts, an old house and absolutely faultless time slips.
Only the second Lively book that I have read (everyone's probably read The Ghost of Thomas Kempe) and yet another author who I am ashamed to have allowed to pass through my literary net. Extremely powerful, ahead of its time in relation to sensitively tackling the problems of British Imperialism and race, Lively sets her story in central Oxford where Clare, a young teenager, lives with her elderly aunts. Not only is it the absolute clarity in her depiction of everyday life and the people in it o ...more
Centred on a young, bookish girl Clare who lives with her aged aunts in a crumbling Oxford house, full of ancient, mysterious artefacts. A wonderfully atmospheric children's book, well-written and surprisingly complex in plot and themes. ...more
Beth Bonini
Aug 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
I'd love to give this to a test group of 13-15 year olds in order to discover whether any of them like it or not. Maybe there is a sensitive, thoughtful girl who would respond to this book, but my hunch is that adult readers will like it much more than the adolescent audience it was written for.

Phillip Pullman wrote the intriguing forward to my edition, and his comments about "time" being the invisible character in this book struck me as very apt. There is a time-travel element to the plot, and
Feb 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: childrens
'The House in Norham Garden was published in 1974 and in many ways it now seems very dated, set as it is in an educational landscape of O Levels, and Latin translations and taking place against a backdrop in which black people are still something of a novelty in British society.

Its central character, fourteen year old Clare, lives in a huge, rambling old Victorian house in North Oxford with her two great aunts who were, in their time a pair of blue-stockings and who now live as much in the past
Alex Brightsmith
Sep 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
It's a long time since I read this book, so long that I'm not even going to make my usual inaccurate stab at a guess. That doesn't matter; I remember this book glowingly, searingly, this is a wonderful book.
Why? The writing? It's been so long I couldn't say for sure, except that I know I loved it from the first, and it's usually the writing that seduces me, but I don't think it was the writing that lodged it in my mind.
It might have been Clare and her aunts, of course, the idea of a girl growin
Emily Osborne
Dec 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 Stars

I had mixed feelings about this book. As it's not heavy on plot, I struggled to get into it, but found I enjoyed it more as I went along. Great descriptions throughout though, especially about streets in Oxford and explorations in the Natural History and Pitt Rivers Museums.

I especially like this paragraph from the beginning of the first chapter:

"Belbroughton Road. Linton Road. Bardwell Road. The houses there are quite normal. They are ordinary sizes and have ordinary chimneys and roo
Oct 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
14-year-old orphan Clare lives with two elderly great-aunts in a large house in North Oxford in the mid 1970s. Her great-grandfather, the aunts' father, was a Victorian explorer who brought artefacts back for museums - some of which are still in the attic, giving Clare strange dreams. The aunts are stuck in the 1930s, the house in Victorian times, and the artefacts are older still - and Clare, who is mostly refreshingly angst-free, has to find her own way in all this, and build her own life.

I lo
Dave Morris
Feb 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found a copy of this while staying at the Steward's House in Oxford, and was hooked by the first page. Even so, I read it with trepidation, expecting one of those kids' books where an initially magical (in the broadest sense) concept crystallizes into thunking reality. Faeries, gods, and spirits are interesting when they are entirely in the mind, very dull when they are made real in the same sense that a Ford Pinto is real.

But Lively is too good a writer to fall into that trap. Things remain a
Annette Hughes
Jan 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I love this gentle and delicate story and have just got it out the library for the third time! I work in the street next to Norham Gardens and, walking down it in the January twilight, I can almost see Clare arriving home from school on her bike. It captures the melancholy and introspective atmosphere of North Oxford perfectly. Nothing very much happens - but a great deal happens, too. All I can say is you will not be disappointed if you read this.
Gail Gauthier
Jun 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
"This may be the most literary book for young people I've ever read. Most definitely, the plot is interior. Nearly everything that happens, happens in Clare's mind. She is changed as a result of the incidents in the book, but they almost all involve her own thoughts. The exterior events that are described are almost all of a very mundane, daily-life variety. The writing is very lush and detailed and focuses on life.

The House in Norham Gardens was originally published in 1974. (The edition I read
Jun 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: young-adult
Deeply satisfying read, taking me back to Oxford, the feeling of being a teenager on the cusp of life, grappling with my place in the world. Clare is an unusually contemplative 14 year old, and I loved her life with her great-aunts in an old rambling house full of history and some ghosts, grappling with the concept of time and what it means for us.
Highly recommend; beautifully written.
Sonia Gensler
Another beautifully written book from Lively. Loved the Oxford setting, particularly the rambling old house. Connected deeply with Clare's angst. This didn't resonate quite as much with me as STITCH IN TIME, but I still loved it. ...more
Mar 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Lovely writing, lovely evocations of lost times and places, lovely characters. A gentle, clever, thoughtful tale that's a delight to read. ...more
Julia Schulz
Feb 20, 2021 rated it it was ok
It was OK. Could have been bulked out by a few more intertwining storylines, and less baseness of characters. Really fluffed up by elaborating on the Aunt's characters. It had a strange tone to it and very clipped conversation. This was the style that the author was aiming for, but if she could have just let the story spill organically and took it to wherever it wanted to go, it could have had something really special. Of course this was written probably over 40 years ago and we're all so much m ...more
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If all young adult books were written like this I suppose they'd be more actively picked up and loved. Not sure why I picked up this discarded library book in the first place but so glad I did. Captivating, real, open-minded, and engaging characters kept the mysterious plot humming throughout the book. I am eager to search out more of this authors writings to see if they follow in great story telling. A favorite passage of mine is...
"Lying in bed that night, in the hinterland between being awake
Roz Morris
Apr 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: coming-of-age
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book tells the story of girl named Clare who is basically a middle-aged woman trapped in the young body; and she lives with her great-aunts, obsesses over New Guinea and goes to school - and it's utterly boring. All the major events of the book can be summarised in 10 pages, everything else is just descriptions and Clare's hallucinogenic dreams.

The author also loves using overcomplicated words and expressions which made the analysis of this book in class a living hell. I'm sorry if you swa
Kevin Darbyshire
Jan 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Not quite sure to make of this. I’ve read quite a lot of the Penelope Lively adult novels but this is the first children’s book I’ve read. The characters are interesting and well rounded but I’m not sure what the story actually means. A vague ghost story about a shield found in the attic and the story doesn’t really go anywhere. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more as a teenager.
Dec 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Less fantastic than Lively's other YA books, but very sensitive and observant. ...more
Ruth McAvinia
Feb 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a re-read of a book I had remembered with a lot of affection. The writing is not as subtle as I remembered but still lovely.
Matt Kelland
Mar 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An instant favorite. Such exquisite writing and wonderful characters. It reminded me of my childhood - or at least the childhood of my imagination - and my great-aunts. Utterly beautiful book.
Apr 18, 2020 rated it liked it
Too slow. DNF.
Mary Jo
Jun 03, 2020 rated it it was ok
This was a fun throw back to my childhood reading. I can't say that it was as good as some of the books I read back then, but then again, 45 years makes a difference. ...more
Catherine Jeffrey
Dec 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020-books
Brilliant holiday read, Clare lives in a house in Oxford with 19 rooms. One day she unearths an artefact from Papua New Guinea. This is a story in a story set in Oxford as the snow behinds to fall.
May 03, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: british, ya
At first I wondered why the protagonist was talking like a middle-aged woman and then I realised that Clare today would be in her mid-fifties. This got me wondering about how we don't really 'turn into middle aged women' -- we somehow cement our ways of speaking and our views on the world, and it's the world around us that changes.

The opening paragraph of this book is wonderfully spooky and introduces the House In Norham Gardens as a character in its own right. But overall the story didn't hold
Jun 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
This is my second book by Penelope Lively. I cannot help but compare The House In Norham Gardens to The Ghost of Thomas Kempe which I absolutely loved. This book has the characters going for it. Clare is orphaned and living with her two elderly aunts. Aunt Susan and Aunt Anne are instantly lovable for their quirkiness. I found myself picturing them so easily in my mind.

Clare herself is a caring girl. She cares about her aunts, the house they live in and those she comes into contact with.

My pro
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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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“Belbroughton Road, Linton Road, Bardwell Road. The houses there are quite normal. They are ordinary sizes and have ordinary chimneys and roofs and gardens with laburnum and flowering cherry. Park Town. As you go south they are growing. Getting higher and odder. By the time you get to Norham Gardens they have tottered over the edge into madness: these are not houses but flights of fancy. They are three storeys high and disguise themselves as churches. They have ecclesiastical porches instead of front doors and round norman windows or pointed gothic ones, neatly grouped in threes with flaring brick to set them off. They reek of hymns and the Empire, Mafeking and the Khyber Pass, Mr Gladstone and Our Dear Queen. They have nineteen rooms and half a dozen chimneys and iron fire-escapes. A bomb couldn't blow them up and the privet in their gardens has survived two World Wars.” 1 likes
“The house squatted around them, vast, empty, unnecessary and indestructible. You had to be a fat busy Victorian family to expand enough to fill up basements and passages and conservatives and attics. You had to have an army of bootboys and nurses and parlourmaids. You had to have a complicated greedy system of living that used up plenty of space and people and just in the daily business of eating and sleeping and keeping clean. You had to multiply your requirements and your possessions, activate that panel of bells in the kitchen - Drawing-Room and Master Bedroom and Library - keep going a spiral of needs and people to satisfy the needs. if you did not, if you contracted into three people without such needs, then a house like this became a dinosaur, occupying too much air and ground and demanding to be fed new sinks and drainpipes and a sea of electricity. Such a house became a fossil, stranded among neighbours long since chopped up into flats and bed-sitting-rooms, or sleek modern houses that had a suitable number of rooms for correct living in the late twentieth century. It and its kind, stood awkwardly on the fringes of a city renowned for old and beautiful buildings: they were old, and unbeautiful.” 1 likes
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