I’ve spent a lot of time criticizing books lately. It’s nice to write about one that I liked.
I just finished reading “Family Album” by Penelope Lively. Hell, I ended up finishing it because I couldn’t sleep, and now I’m paying for it, but oh well. It really is a simple book, showing how each person can see the same events in a totally different way, and how nothing is as it seems.
Basically, it’s all about Alison, a woman who has a simple dream, to get married, have a big house and lots of children. All she wants to do is provide them with a blissful, picture-perfect childhood. She does end up raising six children, but despite her best efforts, their childhood isn’t so blissful, and the dark secrets she tries to hide creep out. You find this out slowly, as each child reveals a piece of the past
It’s funny how in some books, characters are just that, characters and nothing more. But there was something about these people, and the sibling rivalries that were talked about that made them feel real, like I could actually find them somewhere and they would exist beyond the pages of the book. It got so that I had to get back to the book to see what happened to them, to let them finish their stories. The only one I really felt I didn’t get to know was Charles, the dad, and I wanted to know him more. But maybe, if Charles really existed, he would be just as elusive. Maybe that was who he was, and that’s all you got to know anyway. I would have liked to know the youngest one a little better, and sometimes I worried that the reason we didn’t hear much from her was because, being the youngest of six, maybe she got lost in the shuffle. There were times when I worried that she became an anorexic, the way she was described exercising too much, worrying about being fat even though she was thin, but I was never sure if she did or not. See, they weren’t just flat descriptions, they felt like people to me.
There were times when I got a little mad at the kids for not appreciating all that their mom tried to do for them. Even though she was kind of unobservant, she honestly meant well, I think. She wanted them to be loved and feel secure. But there were times when I understood why they would get angry. I think six was too many. As much as Alison wanted to love them all and be attentive to them all, she ended up noticing nothing and listening to noone. And when the dad spent most of his time locked in his study, what did they have in terms of parental input? Not much.
The end of the book really made me think about myself and my own family. Some of the kids were about my age, and seeing them really pull together to help their parents made me wonder. Would we be able to do the same? Would I be able to do enough if I had to? And god, I’m not ready to think about losing a parent. No, no. Mom and dad need to live to be as old as that war veteran, not that I think this is a realistic hope. But I don’t want to even fathom losing one of them anytime soon.
So, if you like a book that makes you think about family dynamics and the way different people see the same thing, and gives you a few chuckles along the way, give this book a try.