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The Photograph

3.32  ·  Rating details ·  4,418 Ratings  ·  619 Reviews
A seductive and hugely suspenseful novel about what can happen when you look too closely into the past; The Photograph is the thirteenth novel by Booker Prize winning author Penelope Lively.

Searching through a little-used cupboard at home, Glyn Peters chances upon a photograph he has never seen before. Taken in high summer, many years earlier, it shows his wife, Kath, hold
Paperback, 236 pages
Published January 29th 2004 by Penguin (first published 2003)
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Melinda Wheeler I think Elaine and Nick were each other's unbreakable habit. I think I realized at some point that they would get back together. But I agree, he was…more I think Elaine and Nick were each other's unbreakable habit. I think I realized at some point that they would get back together. But I agree, he was hopeless. I kept wondering what it would have been like if Glyn and Elaine had been married. They'd have been on equal footing(less)
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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
Sep 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: husbands-wives
After his wife’s death Glyn finds a photograph of her covertly holding the hand of her sister’s husband. What follows is a narrative investigating how fundamentally unknowable everyone is. Glyn confronts his wife’s sister with the photograph and all of a sudden various people who thought they had people boxed are compelled to revise their ideas. The four characters of this novel are brilliantly drawn, each one Lively brings vividly to life. And she’s so good at writing about relationships. It re ...more
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’d been hoping to read another Lively soon and then I’d happened to ‘eavesdrop’ on an online conversation between two writers, one saying she couldn’t stop thinking of this novel and the other saying she kept trying to figure out how Lively “did it”, which by that I took to mean its structure. I was intrigued enough to immediately request it from the library.

While I do not feel that level of obsession over this novel the two writers felt, I understand it. In fact, obsession is one of its theme
May 23, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  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.
Sep 04, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction

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
Sep 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
May 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit
Walking along the beach one day, my friend Paul told me that he'd saved a young man trying to kill himself there not so long ago. Upon engaging the distraught would be suicider, he discovered that the reason for his unhappiness with the world, or with himself, was his extreme beauty. It prevented normal relations with people, with the world.

This is a story of such a person - I imagine it's impossible to understand unless one is in that position. We have no conception, after all, that one could b
Mar 31, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 10, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
After reading a few novels by Penelope Lively I know not to expect a page turning plot. Instead, Lively develops characters and events that seem to come directly from an average life but she shows us a new way of looking at them. In this case, we never really meet Kath but we learn about her from those who should be closest to her - but they also never really know her until long after she is gone. How many people in our own lives do we know and know us deeply? At times I felt like Kath may have ...more
Jun 14, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2009
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.
Roger Brunyate
May 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mysteries-kinda
An Archaeology of Regret

I enjoyed Lively's recent Consequences so much that I turned to this slightly earlier novel. It is equally absorbing, but I think the greater achievement. While dealing with similar concerns—families, the power of memory—it is more concentrated, darker in tone but richer in its observation of human nature, and ultimately the more satisfying book. Had Lively not already won the Booker Prize with Moon Tiger, it would be easy to see this novel as a strong contender.

The pre
Jan 23, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
Dec 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: modern-lit, read-2016
Penelope Lively's books are always a pleasure to read, and this is a beautifully constructed and moving novel. The emotional centre of the book is Kath, who is now dead. Her husband finds a photograph of her which reveals an affair with her brother-in-law, and the story follows the upheavals of the various protagonists as they are forced to adjust their memories and feelings, discovering that none of them really knew her.
Mar 03, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
hours of my life I'll never get back
NC Weil
Feb 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british-lit
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
Feb 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: contemporary, owned
Review pending
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
Feb 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Haunting meditation on the inner lives we lead ... or won’t.
Aug 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Erica Verrillo
Oct 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Aug 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Marie cuatt
Jan 16, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  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
Mar 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-this-year
Beautifully written with an intriguing premise. A husband finds a photo of his deceased wife which he has never seen before. Nothing unusual about the photo until he examines it closer and sees that she's holding hands with her sister's husband. The mystery of this photograph and the emotions it brings forth causes him to investigate further - leading him to his final discovery and the mystery surrounding her death. A spell binding book about secrets and how little we really know about those clo ...more
Sep 28, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
retronerd  Steinkuehler
An intriguing beginning, a plausible middle, a disappointing ending. Beautifully written, though.
Sep 23, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans only
Shelves: book-club-books
I didnt really enjoy this. The style of writing was uninspiring and I found the whole thing quite boring.
Nov 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
I found this book engaging, but not for the 'usual' reasons. This is the first Penelope Lively book I have read. In The Photograph, she presents and explores several people quite unlike one another. The story reunites them successively around a photograph taken impulsively by one of the characters. The pic brings to light facts previously hidden. It also brings each character face-to-face with uncomfortable, even ugly, truths about him- or herself. Other reviewers have commented that none of the ...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
More about Penelope Lively...

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“My understanding of the past has been savagely undermined.” 10 likes
“Behind and byond her looks,her manner, there had been some dark malaise. But nobody ever saw it, back then, he thought. All you saw was her face.” 7 likes
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