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Dancing Fish and Ammonitesby Penelope Lively
Synopses & Reviews
The beloved and bestselling author takes an intimate look back at a life of reading and writing.
The memory that we live with...is the moth-eaten version of our own past that each of us carries around, depends on. It is our ID; this is how we know who we are and where we have been.”
Memory and history have been Penelope Lively's terrain in fiction over a career that has spanned five decades. But she has only rarely given readers a glimpse into her influences and formative years.
Dancing Fish and Ammonites traces the arc of Lively's life, stretching from her early childhood in Cairo to boarding school in England to the sweeping social changes of Britain's twentieth century. She reflects on her early love of archeology, the fragments of the ancients that have accompanied her journey — including a sherd of Egyptian ceramic depicting dancing fish and ammonites found years ago on a Dorset beach. She also writes insightfully about aging and what life looks like from where she now stands.
"At 80, Lively, celebrated British novelist and author (How It All Began), examines in five essays the many appealing and noteworthy facets of old age with her expert observer's eye and eloquent touch. With the aged literally inheriting the earth in greater numbers, Lively is simply fascinated to be among this swelling, far-from-invisible demographic, and in her digressive, erudite, witty narrative, she looks at issues of mortality and degeneration, which slam everyone as they age, as happened to her recently in terms of back and eye problems, and left her widowed after the death of her longtime husband, Jack, 12 years ago; as well she delves into the marvels of memory as the 'majestic, sustaining weapon' over the ravages of time. For Lively the realities of old age mean she has given up on traveling ('been there, seen that') and vigorous gardening, both of which she once threw herself into headlong, yet she has intensified her reading, and in her mellifluous bibliographic essay 'Reading and Writing' she returns to some of the formative works of her generation, and which have influenced her own writing, from Beatrix Potter to her beloved blue Pelican paperbacks. Overall, these reflective essays offer a wealth of riches for further study, and help to dispel many of the stereotypes about the aged, from the 'smiling old dear to the grumbling curmudgeon,' which she abashedly admits are frequently ossified in fiction." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“Buoyant and propulsive....Dancing Fish and Ammonites is about growing old, about memory and history, about reading and writing....Lively communicates ideas and experiences with flashes of narrative color: the tins of water in which the feet of her crib stood in childhood, to spare her from Cairos ants; the layout of a beloved garden; the sight of women in felt hats and gloves as they walked past the bombed-out rubble of wartime Britain.” The New York Times Book Review
“Engaging....Lively's writing shines brightest when her discursive remarks demonstrate the methods and preoccupations that have shaped her fiction.” The New Yorker
“Funny, smart and poignant....Admirers of Penelope Lively's many fine novels will find the same lucid intelligence at work in her elegantly written ‘view from old age.'...Memory, history, archaeology, paleontology — for Penelope Lively, they are all part of our individual and collective effort to retrieve lost time. She chronicles her personal engagement in that quest with wit and rue.” Los Angeles Times
“A collection of well-written essays that draw on Lively's past as she reflects on the present....Lively notes the physical challenges of aging as well as the pleasures shes given up; some with relief, others with regret. She also reveals a sly sense of humor. . . . Her lifelong love affair with books is the topic of 'Reading and Writing,' where she mines the quirks of her own personal reading habits and library (her fiction is kept in the kitchen) and the glorious news for readers that ‘The stimulus of old-age reading is the realization that taste and response do not atrophy: you are always finding yourself enthusiastic about something you had not expected to like.'” Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“A gift...witty, gentle-humored, sharp....Throughout Lively is a keen observer and an engaging narrator....Subjects that may, at first glance, seem random and somewhat scattershot take on the elegant coherence of a deeply satisfying conversation.” All Things Considered
Rare personal reflections from one of our most talented writers” (The New York Times Book Review).
Memory and history have been Penelope Lively's terrain in fiction throughout a career that has spanned five decades. In this funny, smart, and poignant” (Los Angeles Times) memoir, she offers a glimpse into her influences and formative years, as well as a view of what life looks like from the vantage point of eighty years. Lively traces the arc of her own life, from early childhood in Cairo to boarding school in England to the sweeping social changes of Britain's twentieth century. She reflects on her early love of archaeology, and on the fragments of the ancients that have accompanied her journey. She also takes an intimate look back at a life devoted to books and writes insightfully about aging.
About the Author
Penelope Lively is the critically acclaimed author of many books for both adults and children, including the Man Booker Prizewinning novel Moon Tiger. In recognition of her contributions to literature, she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2012. She lives in London.
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