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The Road To Lichfield

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Sitting in the Matron’s chintzy office, looking out onto neat lawns swept by a huge Cedar of Lebanon, beneath which old people were tidily disposed on benches and wheelchairs in the early spring sunshine, she said “What exactly is wrong with him?” It’s he who has been kind to me in many ways. He was a very agreeable neighbour. I’ll drop the rod in sometime.” Despite the death at its center, "The Road to Lichfield" is a pleasant book -- too pleasant, perhaps. We never feel any sense of dismay (or wonder) in Anne at her own newly discovered capacity for duplicity and betrayal, nor does she seem particularly Oh, do be quiet, she thought, you don’t understand at all, and when he ploughed on with, “Hadn’t you better get hold of Graham?’ she had snapped, “Look, do leave that to me,” and the disagreement might have blossomed and run its proper course except that reasonable people do not quarrel at such a time. Or, indeed, much at all.

The Road to Lichfield is the Booker Prize shortlisted first novel by Penelope Lively, published as a Penguin Essential for the first time on the 40th anniversary of its publication. A searing study of the peculiar state of being in love . . . there are few contemporary novelists to match her on this subject' Sunday Telegraph Read more Details Anne said, “No. Please don’t. I shall have to go in a little while anyway.” They looked from each other, awkwardly, to the old man in the bed, the link who might explain each to the other, but he merely blinked and muttered. Anne said “I’m Anne Linton. His daughter.” Its protagonist is Anne Linton, a 40-year-old suburban mother of two and part-time history instructor. Anne lives in a village in Berkshire with her relentlessly stolid husband, Don, a successful solicitor, and their two rather unmemorable children. As I've become an avid Penelope Lively fan and I dived into this one. It was like diving into cool translucent water on a hot day, so lucid the prose, so calm and unhurried the plot, so careful the nudges towards a theme. This is known territory: middle-class, middle-life, middle-England. Sounds tedious and parochial? What saves it is Lively's understanding of what I'm going to be daring (#pretentious) and call the 'psychic infrastructure' of her chosen subject.She had thought of that last night, planning her journey. Private and public memory, it seemed, were fused on the R.A.C. Route Guide.

No, no, father,” she laughed. “I wasn’t born then. Don’t make me feel older than I am. It would have been about 1939 – the last war, not the one before.” Before and after visiting hours, Anne stays in her father's house in a village outside Lichfield. She sorts through his papers and putters around in his garden. She also falls in love with one of his neighbors. The affair reawakens in her a capacity Anne’s relationships with her husband, brother, lover and children are never played for melodrama, but lead her to reflect on her past.Ann Linton leaves her family in Berkshire and sets up camp in her father's house when he is taken into a nursing home in distant Lichfield. As she shares his last weeks she meets David Fielding, and the love they share brings her feelings into sharp focus. Deeply felt, beautifully controlled, The Road to Lichfield is a subtle exploration of memory and identity, of chance and consequence, of the intricate weave of generations across a past never fully known, and a future never fully anticipated. she got up and adjusted the rug that was slipping from his knees, and held his hand for a moment. The fingers clutched hers. -- From "The Road to Lichfield."

The story is told me an omniscient narrator, but occasionally slips into the first person. At its centre is Annie, who travels from her home in Berkshire to the home in Dr Johnson's home town of Lichfield to visit her dying father. Annie is married to the dull but reliable Don, and has a more flamboyant elder brother Graham who works as a television producer and has never married. At her father's bedside she meets David, a teacher who was her father's fishing companion, and an affair ensues. Parallel to this narrative, Annie discovers that her father has been giving money regularly to the daughter of a former mistress she knew nothing about. Annie is a historian, and another plot concerns the fate of an old but dilapidated farmhouse in her Berkshire village and the failed campaign to save it from developers. Anne pulled a chair up beside the bed. Now sound normal and ordinary, the last thing he wants (or ever wanted) is fuss, a performance (distantly, in her childhood, a crisp voice saying, “That’ll do, Anne, we’re not having a performance””). At a conservative estimate, I should think you’re about twenty miles out, with that method. Here, let me.” A homey, companionable book grounded in a thoroughly domestic plot, "The Road to Lichfield" nevertheless has some unusually large themes. Like a number of Ms. Lively's novels ("Treasures of Time," for example, or the more recentBenign smiles, Anne thought, at least mine is. Benign understanding smiles, as to a child. He shouldn’t be talked of like this, as if he weren’t here, or was too stupid to understand. And David Fielding, seeming to share her feelings, pulled up a chair and sat by the bed. He talked to her father, waiting patiently through his laboured responses, and making his own remarks clear and careful. Anne thought: what a nice man, why did father never mention him I wonder, but he always liked to shut off bits of his life, even when mother was alive. She always complained she never knew his friends.

She said, “I’m sure. He didn’t like retiring – he never could keep away from schools.” They both looked towards the bed again, smiling. Look,” he said, “Are you sure you’re all right? Would you like to come and have a cup of coffee or something?”concerned over the fact that the affair could destroy the rest of her life. Moreover, despite her continual ruminations on her father's history, his decline and death hardly seem to upset her. In the end, "The Road to Lichfield" is itself subject to the altering effects of the present: had it appeared here in 1977, it would doubtless have seemed a richly promising debut. In the glare of Ms. Lively's later accomplishments, however, it looks a bit pale the car to where, a few yards away, sheep slumped on the edge of the tarmac. . . . Shut off by the glass, they had the clinical interest of a nature film." It is hard to describe the impact of this book in a few sentences. It is slow in developing, and I was not sure where it was headed, but once I finished, I felt like I “got it.” This book examines a person’s history, of the passage of time, and memories, and how these elements impact one’s perceptions of life. The tone is quiet and contemplative. The characters are well developed and easy to picture. Oh – yes, of course. I should have realized. My name’s Fielding, David Fielding. I used to be a neighbour of your father’s out at Star-bridge, and we’ve kept in touch over the last year or two.”

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