Tuesday, 20 November 2012
A House Unlocked by Penelope Lively
It is formal and stylized, in the sampler tradition, with the house at the top and beneath it significant elements of the garden - lily pond with goldfish shimmering beneath the blue stitched water, dovecot with white doves, sundial, mole and molehill, frog, toad, dragonfly.....Below that is the stable block, horses peering from loose boxes, each named, and a row of prancing dogs beneath - Sheltie and Waif and Merlin and the famous Dingo, a real Australian dingo bought from London Zoo by my aunt Rachel. At the very bottom is a line of children. Not as you might think, grandchildren, but the wartime evacuees.
Lively then goes on to write about the evacuees who were billeted at Golsoncott, and more generally about the effect of the evacuation on the country. Other chapters cover the opening up of the West Country to tourism with the coming of the railways, the role of the church in rural life, and garden history, among other subjects.
Lively's references to her own family history have the effect of making the subjects personal and real, but she isn't sentimental about the past. I don't think I have read any of Penelope Lively's novels, and this book has made me want to seek them out.