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Family Album

3.31  ·  Rating details ·  2,581 ratings  ·  468 reviews

Family Album 'a hugely enjoyable read' from Booker Prize winner Penelope Lively

'This novel should delight her regular readers and ensnare new ones' Evening Standard

Allersmead is a big shabby Victorian suburban house. The perfect place to grow up for elegant Sandra, difficult Gina, destructive Paul, considerate Katie, clever Roger and
Paperback, 261 pages
Published 2010 by Penguin (first published 2009)
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3.31  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,581 ratings  ·  468 reviews

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B the BookAddict
Sep 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to B the BookAddict by: Goodreads
In this stunning portrait of family life, Penelope Lively delves below the surface, making the ordinary quite extraordinary. She introduces you in depth to some characters, a few will be a snapshot seen via opinion but you will come to realize you have an insight into everyone in this messy three adult, six children household who live at the shabbily majestic Allersmead. Lively bestows upon you portions of family life, opinions and remembrances of the siblings, their parents and the au pair.

Linda C
Aug 31, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hated
There is both good news and bad news about this book. The good news is that it was only 200 pages. The bad news is that it was 200 very boring pages. I finished it, but barely, and I am hard pressed to think of a more unpleasant 200 page book.

While the concept was somewhat intriguing, the characters were so unpleasant, and the writing so trite, that it was a highly unpleasant reading experience. The book was about-- what? There didn't seem to be any particular plot; while Jerry Seinfeld may have
Nov 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People with an interest in family dynamics and an ability to tolerate a pretty nonexistent plot
This is one of those cases where many things that normally annoy me in books were forgiven because I liked the writing. Not so much a story as a character sketch of a family and its members, Family Album reads like a series of snapshots. Distant, self-absorbed Charles is married to Allison, a mom on steroids if there ever was one, raising her large brood of six children. The au pair, Ingrid, has been present since the children's babyhood and mysteriously never left, even though all the children ...more
Ginger Bensman
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
Penelope Lively's books are always a pleasure. This one, written about a large family (six children) who grow up in a huge and rambling turn-of-the-century house, is a prismatic glimpse into the experience of each of the characters (the children, parents, and the au pair). The upshot, at least for me, is that memory is potent and highly individual. An experience may be shared, but each participant can come away from it with a profoundly different perspective, and those perspectives will likely s ...more
Dec 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My only other Lively experience was How It All Began, her latest, which I LOVED. This was different, more sombre and more conventional. The story of a family -- mother, father, six now-grown kids, and the au pair who never left. The main conceit of the book is that families are not what they seem. That's not exactly a stunning revelation, but this secret is interestingly juicy. And Lively is great both on dialogue and on the intricacies of how people relate to one another. I thought the most int ...more
Nov 28, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Hmm, did I miss something? Because I didn't find this novel "quietly devastating," as the NY Times reviewer called it: Rather, I found it plodding and very staged. Perhaps I'm inured by too many memoirs of dramatic domestic dysfunction. I was sincerely moved by the chapter narrated by the eldest son, Paul, and surprised by the empathy Lively shows each of her characters, but it amounts to little more than a collection of roughly drawn character studies.
Jan 01, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It's rare that I give up on a book. I managed to plod through to the end of this blunder of a read, but for naught. The only properly developed character was the house, thus the title should have been "Allersmead." If it had been, I might have known to skip it. It was a pained experience from which I learned nothing and enjoyed little.
Paul Curd
Family Albumis the sixteenth novel Penelope Lively has written for adults. As the title suggests, it is a series of snapshots, episodes from the life of an upper middle class family. Charles, the father, is a writer who, it seems, never wanted marriage and children and who spends the majority of his time hidden away in his study, working on his next book. His wife, Alison, was the original 1960s Earth Mother whose whole life revolved around having and bringing up children. The children have all, ...more
Feb 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a stroke of luck. Had in the back of my mind to get round to reading some Penelope Mortimer and browsing the selection in the Wilmette library secondhand store I picked this up by mistake. The wrong Penelope. But it had a reassuring 'NY Times Notable book of the Year' sticker on the cover and after a quick google search told me she was a past Booker winner, I decided to give this a read. And how brilliant was it? Very, very. The story of a large family, six siblings all told from their diff ...more
Bookmarks Magazine
Although most critics acknowledged that Family Album was not her best work, they thoroughly enjoyed Lively's latest tale of middle-class family dysfunction, a theme that fans will recognize from earlier novels. Lively is particularly skilled at exploring the small, seemingly inconsequential details of domestic life with an authenticity that will have readers cringing with empathy. There is a foreshadowed family secret that comes to light more than halfway through the novel: it's effective, but n ...more
Kasa Cotugno
Dec 11, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: awards-winners
Penelope Lively is a master of misdirection. Family Album tells the story of a family that includes six children, in which the house they grow up in is as much a character as any of the humans. The narrative is supplied by each family member as well as others close to them, rendering each as a distinct personality, transitioning between past and present smoothly and distinctly. Information is hinted at, revealed sparingly and all in good time. Like every family that ever existed, this family har ...more
Ann Douglas
Jan 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, read-in-2016
A beautifully structured novel about an ordinary family that is living with a rather extraordinary secret. Features well-developed characters and multiple points-of-view. An engaging and worthwhile read.
Mar 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
Wow, two Penelope Lively books in as many months! This woman is such a great writer, weaving her characters - all from the same family of course - with each other, casting different interpretations on the same events, relating past events to present situations. She weaves a delicious web; slowly, gently uncovering the mysteries and things that happen in families, all under the veneer and appearance of everything being 'normal'.

In this little gem, the children, all six of them, are returning to t
Jun 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013, audible
Astutely written.

This was an interesting study of a large family in rural England, living in an old, crumbling mansion. I loved the earth mother, Alison, devoted to her children, whose only aim in life was to be matriarch to a large family.
Her husband, Charles, was a somewhat cliched version of the distant father, surrounded by constant noise and hubbub, yet almost unaware of it. Somewhat ironically, he was an anthropologist, studying the interactions of distant societies and how they raised the
Apr 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a story of a woman who set out to create and maintain a happy family. She glosses over and tries to contain the chaos and underlying misery of her large, boisterous clan while her husband retreats into his intellectual world behind the doors of his study, or into his mind at the dinner table - rarely interacting with his children or wife. This couple is a colossal mismatch, and there is also a fifth wheel who lives with them, and is at the heart of the family secret. This short novel is ...more
Jun 02, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Being the eldest of six children, like the family here, I thought that I would read this as my first Penelope Lively novel. Right from the start, I was not sure that I liked her writing style, perhaps a little too descriptive. But then she settled into the personalities and it began holding my interest somewhat better. It started waning again though and I found myself speed reading through several portions. Once I did finish, I was surprised that the ending elicited a tear from me, hence the thr ...more
Jill Meyer
Feb 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Penelope Lively's new novel, Family Album, is about a large family that grows up in a large house in suburban London. The Harper family consists of six children, the two parents, and an "au pair girl" who has played an interesting role in family history.

The Harper family revolves around Alison, the mother of the brood, and Allersmead, the Victorian "pile" that the Harper family has lived in for 40 years or so. The father, Charles, a distant figure in the household, is sort of "there, but not the
Ron Charles
Penelope Lively's new novel comes wrapped as a celebration of old-fashioned domestic joy, with its heartwarming title, "Family Album," elegantly embroidered on the dust jacket. But be careful; she's left her needle in the cloth. It's a typical move for this old master, who frequently writes about sharp objects buried in our sepia-toned past. Although this little book can't compete with her Booker-winning "Moon Tiger" or her fictionalized anti-memoir "Consequences," it's another winning demonstra ...more
Aug 21, 2017 rated it liked it
A story of a big family growing up in a big house, with all their secrets and lies. I guessed the main secret from the beginning (view spoiler) but I was enjoying it a lot as a character study, until the end where the style suddenly changed and it became very disjointed.
Eva Arrhenius
Nov 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
An enjoyable read about a for me quite exotic family. There’s a seemingly natural change of tone when the focus changes from one character to another. The plot is developed slowly with some suspense. The future or past lies between the lines. Behind it all the natural illogic of life with a wink.
Renita D'Silva
A beautiful and insightful story
Aug 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed this novel by Lively, until i came to the end which I found really disappointing. I suppose she was attempting to tie up everything and demonstrate how each of the siblings moved on after the father's passing, but I still felt a big let-down. Otherwise this book would have received a five-star rating instead of only four starts.

As the novel opens, we are introduced to a quirky family, headed by a father who writes books and stays in his study much of the time. The big old house in
Nov 04, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
(Who are the people in this photo? I don’t know. I took their picture from the inter-web. But I do like the small child in blue in the corner-left, as he/she seems to have the right idea in hiding her/his face. Scary the number of family portraits that turn up on Google images.)

Penelope Lively’s novel Family Album leaves as much mystery about its characters as this portrait. The family of the titular album is comprised of six children and three parents. The “shocking” reveal of the novel is that
Carly Thompson
I really enjoyed this novel about family life. Family Albumis the story of a large British family with six children, a sarcastic emotionally absent father, a mother who defines herself as a mother and a homemaker, and a somewhat enigmatic Swedish au pair who remains with the family even after the children are grown. At the heart of the story is the large, rambling, somewhat dilapidated Edwardian house, Allersmead which all the characters call home. The novel moves back in forth in time, as the a ...more
Sep 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can summarize this book very succinctly: Brilliant!

I've been reading a lot of Lively lately, but this new novel really impressed me. It has a contemporary feel to it, it's clever and deceptively simple, and I really think she is just getting better with every book she writes.

It's a fantastic presentation of family life in a large group of siblings, with eccentric parents, and an au pair who stays for thirty years. I really can't describe much more of a plot; that's about it. But it is in the t
. I'm tempted to say that Lively's book isn't lively. She is a highly regarded writer, but I think she mostly missed with this one, although it was short–listed for a Costa Prize (used to be called Whitbread, which may be more familiar). It's the story of a rigid man who writes extensively researched intellectual non–fiction books and his wife who is obsessed with having lots of kids, a big house, and lots of happy family memories and celebrations. It's also (even more so) the story of the six c ...more
L Timmel
May 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book-- most particularly in the way the writing conveyed the gestalt of one (large) nuclear family's life across decades, rich with concurrent memories conveyed through the voices of all it's members (some more than others, of course). I liked that this family's mysteries (and of course every family has its mysteries, never clearly elucidated in one clear, unambiguous "truth") are acknowledged and poked at but never revealed in some definitive form. A beautiful, though reserved, pie ...more
Sep 07, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read Lively because she's such a great story teller and craftsperson. Just as I watch certain movies because you love to see a particular actor at work,I read Lively because I love to see how she puts a narrative together. I love her British wit and the way her books shimmer with the difference between her language and the American idiom. Her books feel real, authentic and effortless yet they entertain on so many levels. I say entertain, because her books don't really challenge me. Many review ...more
Dec 29, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle-edition
Gosh - I adored this. There was quite a huge amount of genius in the way this was written. The multiple narrators and the jumping around and different perspectives were so true to life. It felt as if I was at a family dinner in my own house - everyone talks at once, nobody really pays attention, you never know who to listen to, the food is always amazing, and all of us have a COMPLETELY different view of how we grew up. What a great modern family narrative. I felt as if I was reading my childhoo ...more
Feb 25, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I listened to this one on audio. It's the story of a dysfunctional family of 8, with a live in au pair, Ingrid. Charles is the father of this brood and Allison the mother. She loves having children and cooking and caring for them. They live in a large home where the children enjoyed their growing up years. They are Allison's life. Charles is a writer and rather indifferent toward the kids.

I enjoyed listening to this after a slow start, but thought it was an ok listen to what happens with the fa
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disappointing 1 15 Jun 13, 2012 07:53AM  
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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
“Far as I'm concerned, they're all still here, like a lot of dear little ghosts.” 6 likes
“like most people, they know one another inside out, and not at all.” 3 likes
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