[BOOKS] ✴ Ammonites and Leaping Fish: A Life in Time ✻ Penelope Lively – Agedanna.info
I learned Penelope Lively s three favourite novels are What Daisy Knew by Henry James, The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford and The Inheritors by William Golding I d like to say I learned lots of interest from Lively but I m afraid I didn t I was often rather bored by her musings in this book of rather disconnected essays I d describe this as a pastime rather than any kind of inspired performance Overall it came across as a writer writing for the sake of it I ve got a lot of love for Penelope Lively but this felt like a waste of my time. I began on a spring morning in the Anglo American Hospital in Zamalek, which was a residential suburb on Gezira, the island in Cairo s Nile 17 March 1933 Elsewhere, things were going on that would lead to turmoil in North Africa in a few years time my parents lives would be affected, and mine, but they were comfortably oblivious that morning, and I was tucked up in a crib, the feet of which stood in tin trays of water, because there had been instances of ants getting at newborn babies.Towards the end of my own stint I find myself thinking less about what has happened to me but interested in this lifetime context, in the times of my life I have the great sustaining ballast of memory we all do, and hope to hang on to it I am interested in the way that memory works, in what we do with it, and what it does with us And when I look around my cluttered cluttered house ballast, material ballast I can see myself oddly identified and defined by what is in it my life charted out on the bookshelves, my concerns illuminated by a range of objects.I have no idea why, but Penelope Lively s book seems to go by various titles Another one seems to be Ammonites and Leaping Fish A Life in Time, which is a bit confusing when you re trying to find the book but at the same time makes it really easy to tell someone else what the title is because inevitably any one of the variations on the title may bring up the book in a search Leaping Fish, Dancing Fish at least the Ammonites seem to be present in all of them.Anyway, this book is my RL book club s read for this month and it is the first of their picks that I have really enjoyed It is not a perfect book, but I was glued to Lively s essays on ageing, memory, her own story, her accounts of history, and her musings on life, on reading.As it turns out, she seems to be an author that I share some interests with and whose thought process I find both inspiring and, not easy to follow exactly, but neatly cutting to salient points without a lot flourish What I mean is, she gets to the point I like that You aren t going to get old, of course, when you are young We won t ever be old, partly because we can t imagine what it is like to be old, but also because we don t want to, and crucially are not particularly interested We are too keen to bundle everyone by category as a child, I used to be maddened by the assumption that I would get along famously with someone just because we were both eight All that we have in common, we in this new demographic, are our aches and pains and disabilities and, yes, that high C evoked by Anthony Burgess For the rest of it, we are the people we have always been splendidly various, and let us respect that.Whether it were her thoughts on old age, or her dissection of the Suez Crisis which, btw, I found particularly fascinating in that horrifying way that history has when it becomes clear just how stupid and reckless politicians are when gambling with people s lives , or her description of how much she loves reading and how books are part of her life Right on, Penelope , I will be returning to this book to re read certain sections Can t garden Don t want to travel But can read, must read For me, reading is the essential palliative, the daily fix Old reading, revisiting, but new reading too, lots of it, reading in all directions, plenty of fiction, history and archaeology always, reading to satisfy perennial tastes, reading sideways too try her, try him, try that, and AbeBooks would founder without me my house is a book depository books in, books out to family and friends, to my daughter s Somerset cottage where there is still some shelf space, to wonderful Book Aid which sends English language books to places where they are needed.Despite all my enthusiasm for this book, it is not without faults They show up especially when compared to Lively s fiction, which has structure as story telling tends to do.This, her memoir, does not stick to that prescribed architecture of beginning, middle, end, with a relevant flow of narrative It is a memoir, in a way, but certainly not anything that could be referred to for chronology In this book, Lively dissects topics old age, memory, the individuals place in collective history and connects them to her own life.Her narrative in this book very much reminded me of that of Claudia in Lively s book Moon Tiger, who exclaims the following at the beginning of the bookI m writing a history of the world, she says And the hands of the nurse are arrested for a moment she looks down at this old woman, this old ill woman Well, my goodness, the nurse says That s quite a thing to be doing, isn t it And then she becomes busy again, she heaves and tucks and smooths Upsy a bit, dear, that s a good girl then we ll get you a cup of tea Penelope Lively Moon Tiger It is messy in parts Yet, I actually found that aspect charming Others may not.Oh, well Am I envious of the young Would I want to be young again On the first count not really, which surprises me On the second certainly not, if it meant a repeat performance I would like to have back vigour and robust health, but that is not exactly envy And, having known youth, I m well aware that it has its own traumas, that it is no Elysian progress, that it can be a time of distress and disappointment, that it is exuberant and exciting, but it is no picnic I don t particularly want to go back there And in any case, I am someone else now This seems to contradict earlier assertions that you are in old age the person you always were What I mean is that old age has different needs, different satisfactions, a different outlook I remember my young self, and I am not essentially changed, but I perform otherwise today. After reading Dancing Fish and Amonites I feel like I ve been on a retreat for a few days with an especially erudite friend talking the days away while taking a ramble on this or that trail, enjoying cups of tea and perhaps a glass of wine or two by the fire as we share our histories and thoughts on life There is an intimacy as well as the intelligence of an ever questing mind that makes this book irresistible to me.Lively has written memoirs before, but this is her view from old age , written when she was eighty She has divided the book into lengthy sections each exploring an aspect of old age Old Age is the first, longest, and I think me favorite but ask me tomorrow and I may say Memory or Life and Times are my favorite I think I ve already read the book at least one and a half timesit is heavily annotated by me after all, I was engaged in a dynamic conversation Naturally as a highly literate historian as well as author, the book abounds in quotes and references She had the long view and reminds us how as recently as 1960 there were few who reached the age of 100 Gasp indeed at the statistic that by 2060 it is predicted there will be over 400,000 people over a 100 in Britain alone Sociological changes aside, Lively explores many of the changes in her own life Can t garden Don t want to travel But can read, must read For me, reading is the essential palliative, the daily fix I am hoping, like her, that my eyes and mind hold out I laughed when I read her enthusiastic new reading, too, lots of it, reading in all directions, plenty of fiction, history, archaeology always, reading to satisfy perennial tastes, reading sideways, too try her, try him, try that, and Abe books would founder without me Ahhhhh Life and Times chronicled major political events and social change experiences of Lively s life Our life is shaped by the times in which we live and to the extent those events touch our life for Lively growing up in Egypt the Suez Canal was a major milestone in shaping her political sensibility whereas WWII felt quite remote for her Lively is of my parents generation so many of her rumination were quite interesting to me She also got me thinking of how having family in East Berlin gave a greater immediacy to me to Cold War tensions The Vietnam War was my college years and like her I m trying to reconcile what I lived with and what had been written and is being seen through the Lens of time now, e.g In Ken Burns current series on Vietnam In my forties I really wanted to hear nothing about it a kind of been there, done that Now I m readyIn the second half of Time and Place she explores social change The seismic changes of the past fifty years were feminism, the pill, sexual candor and homosexuality The unstoppable slide toward entire permissiveness, to a climate in which nothing is unmentionable and most of it is mentioned all the time And where will we go next The memory that we live with the formof memory that most interests me 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 oh my gosh isn t that the word we jest about for decades before we actually are old Isn t that where we wonder if our sibling or our spouse was really present because their memory of that special event differs so greatly from ours Lively gives some interesting scientific info here and addresses the current plague of dementia but mostly explores how thinking about the distortions of memory has influenced several of the novels she has written in Moon Tiger and The Photograph She writes, I have learned to be suspicious of memory my own, anyone s but to accord it considerable respect Memory is fertile ground for novelists I loved her chapter on Reading and Writing One of my favorite lines is I can measure out my life in books They stand along the way like signposts the moments of absorption and empathy and direction and enlightenment and sheer pleasure I know I will be returning to this section again and again pencil in hand Wouldn t that be an interesting personal timeline the signposts of books read from day 1I know my first three Her last section is titled Six Things and fascinated me for what they told about her life and interests and her character Then it challenged me to consider what six things I might select I have friends downsizing to smaller living accommodations and I m appalled at how easily they rid themselves of their books but would one book become my talisman And what other objects might define me I m still working on that She can be quite funny I ve never believed travel broadens the mind, having known some well travelled minds that were nicely atrophied In the company of Penelope Lively there is no chance of your brain atrophying She has always extended my experiences Highly recommended The subtitle of this book is A Memoir But it is not a memoir in the traditional sense of covering a person s life chronologically In fact, the author says in this book that she has no interest in writing that kind of memoir.Rather it is a book of musings and reminiscences about her life, largely concerned with getting old she was 80 when she wrote this book in 2013 I will be 63 in March so I have to say it was very encouraging to find out that, despite her age and a few health issues, she still very much enjoys herself.A substantial amount of the book is taken up by her love of reading and the authors that she loved when she was younger and those that she enjoys now Again, I was happy to find out that her passion for reading has not diminished with age, as reading is probably the biggest part of my life.All in all, a very enjoyable book. This was a memoir I had to read for many reasons Lively has long been one of my favorite novelists, a Booker Prize winner although her Booker Prize winner, Moon Tiger, is very good, it is by no means my favorite of her work , the female author I ve read of than any other over a lifetime of reading Indeed, I fondly remember in the 1980 s and early 1990 s buying her earlier works in London bookstores Foyle s remember Foyle s, wowor Blackwell in Oxford or before all of her work became so widely available here in the U.S I always adored her sparse but effective prose, her observant eye, her window into the human experience, her consistency.And now, having passed into her ninth decade, she looks back Granted, this is a very different vehicle than her prior, highly stylized childhood retrospective, Oleander, Jacaranda Was her life so unique that it merited two memoirs Why not First, the two memoirs are very different, indeed.More importantly, what a life Raised in Egypt, displaced and exiled to the UK by WWII, and a relatively circuitous path to being a highly prolific, respected novelist From observing Charles de Gaulle in his dressing gown as a child to becoming Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire which, of course, doesn t even merit mention in this memoir , it s an extraordinary life Granted, in the Internet era, we often are able to learn as much or too much about authors or celebrities, generally as we d want to know But this is her story, and therein lies the attraction.On a critical note, I have to assume that, but for her reputation and readership, this book would never have been published It s a collection of reflections, musing, almost rambling observations on in order aging senior citizenship this was, to my mind, the most surprising or unexpected , life in the context of the world around her, memory, books and reading and writing, and and this is the most quirky six seemingly random objects of meaning in her home life Fortunately, it s Penelope Lively, so there is no rambling, and each vignette is thought provoking and, often than not, prompts questions than answers I m highly amused by the number of pages that I dog eared for additional investigation, reading, research, and inquiry Not for everyone, but I m glad she wrote it, and I m pleased I finally read it. I wondered if I was a fraud of some sort for wanting to read the memoir of a writer for whom I actually haven t read any of her books I ve hovered around her, intrigued by her novels when I worked with them in the bookstore, but failed until now to actually commit to one.But I m glad to have read her memoir before exploring her backlist Although, as she says, This is not quite a memoir Rather, it is the view from old age Although the structure feels just a bit cobbled together, I mean this in only the most positive way The sections in my ARC provided by Penguin Viking are labeled Old Age, Life and Times, Memory, Reading and Writing, Six Things In each section, she skillfully blends social history with her own history and her involvement in and feelings about the events Old Age, for example, includes her very personal perspectives about both the positive and negative effects of aging, and also the broader context of Britain s and the world s aging populations, and how elderly people have been viewed through time by different cultures I loved her insights into how the elderly are often perceived by the younger generations, saying that while it s easy for an older person to get caught in the loop of commiserating on their own lives and stories, the reality is that they are still here with us, and should strive to be a part of what is actually happening around them, in real time and real life.Since my copy is an ARC, I can t really quote Lively s insights in my review, which is the first time with an ARC that this restriction has truly frustrated me I ve worked around this before, but her observations are so insightful and so cleverly formed, one wants to quote from her endlessly, to make sure that her brilliance is best imparted.Lively s writing is intelligent, elegant, affecting Although I d hoped that Reading and Writing would relate of her day to day techniques for writing her stories, I was easily mollified by her revelations of books that have inspired, influenced, and shaped her own writing I am now walking away not only with a list of her novels to check out but also books and authors I m only vaguely familiar with or haven t even heard of which is saying a lot for me , that I d like to explore, based on her illuminating descriptions and patronage.My favourite section of the book is the final one, Six Things In this, she presents six seemingly random objects from her home and explains their provenance, their effect on her life, why they re her favourite things Photographs are included This is where the title comes from one object is an ancient Egyptian sherd yes, sherd not shard a broken piece of pottery , on which two small black fish dance Another is a pebble of blue lias, inset with two spiraled, fossilized ammonites She balances such ancient treasures with common objects, like the duck kettle holders from Maine These lovingly described objects made me think about those items that I personally have chosen to keep around, despite a tendency in the last decade to ruthlessly cull my own possessions to a minimum Some are also potential treasures in the minds of others, but some are trinkets, valued only by myself because of my emotional history with them.Deeply enjoyable, witty, and with philosophical insights I ll be considering from some time to come. A beautiful memoir of aging, reading, writing, family, history Penelope Lively sat down to write about the things that have been most important to her She was 80 at the time of writing, and although her body is breaking down and often painful, her mind is as sharp as ever, and as she says memory is the mind s triumph over time She has the same wish as me in her time remaining that her eyes continue to serve her, because losing the ability to read would be the worst tragedy she can imagine.I really enjoyed this entire book, but her first chapter Old Age is a work of art At least to someone like me, who is not too far from entering that country myself I ve read some of her fiction, but now would like to read some , also her memoir of her childhood in Egypt, Oleander, Jacaranda The best books always do this, leave you wanting. Years ago Penelope Lively surprised me with Moon Tiger, a fine autobiographical exploration of the past by a rather eccentric and unreliable female narrator It seemed to me that Lively had made it her trademark in literature to explore the vigour and reality of the past, because the theme is also dealt with in other books of her This booklet she wrote at the age of 80, in her own modest style, not as a memoir but as a view from old day She muses about the passing of time faster as you get older , the inconveniences and challenges of aging, but also the benefits of becoming slightly invisible , and especially the blessing of memory, as an instrument for travelling through the past But above all she opens a perspective on old age as a kind of liberating phase in life I think there is a sea change, in old age a metamorphosis of the sensibilities With those old consuming vigours now muted, something else comes into its own an almost luxurious appreciation of the world that your are still in Spring was never so vibrant, autumn never so richly gold. Lively recalls personal memories, quite jumpy and random she dwells for a long time on the bliss of reading it frees me from the closet of my own mind Reading fiction, I see through the prism of another person s understanding reading everything else, I am travellingand brings a nice ode to books Maybe Lively opens a lot of open doors, and offers no than some musings that will mainly be enjoyed by the fans, but oh well, she does so with style And last but not least, she reminds us of her most important lesson in life that the past really exists, is real in our lives, if only in the form of a few ancient earthenware plates with leaping fish on it The past is irretrievable, but it lurks It sends out tantalizing messages, coded signals in the form of a clay pipe stem, a smashed wine bottle Two leaping fish from twelfth century Cairo I can t begin to understand what that time was like, or how the men who made them lived, but I can know that it all happened that old Cairo existed, and a particular potter To have the leaping fish sherd on my mantelpiece and all those other sherds in the cake tin expands my concept of time There is a further dimension to memory it is not just a private asset, but something vast, collective, resonant And all because fragments of detritus survive, and I can consider them. A Memoir That Addresses Ageing, Memory, Time And A Life In The Th Century, By One Of Our Greatest Writers, Penelope Lively This Is Not Quite A Memoir Rather, It Is The View From Old Age And A View Of Old Age Itself, This Place At Which We Arrive With A Certain Surprise Ambushed, Or So It Can Seem One Of The Few Advantages Of Age Is That You Can Report On It With A Certain Authority You Are A Native Now, And Know What Goes On Here In This Charming But Powerful Memoir, Penelope Lively Reports From Beyond The Horizon Of Old Age She Describes What Old Age Feels Like For Those Who Have Arrived There And Considers The Implications Of This New Demographic She Looks At The Context Of A Life And Times, The History And Archaeology That Is Actually Being Made As We Live Out Our Lives In Real Time, In Her Case World War II Post War Penny Pinching Britain The Suez Crisis The Cold War And Up To The Present Day She Examines The Tricks And Truths Of Memory She Looks Back Over A Lifetime Of Reading And Writing And Finally She Looks At Her Identifying Cargo Of Possessions Two Ammonites, A Cat, A Pair Of American Ducks And A Leaping Fish Sherd, Amongst Others This Is An Elegant, Moving And Deeply Enjoyable Memoir By One Of Our Most Loved Writers More musing than memoir, Penelope Lively writes of aging, memory, reading and the role of history in our lives Since these are all topics that fascinate me, and because I ve recently come to enjoy her fiction writing, I was enchanted and charmed by these essays.I cannot claim Lively as a contemporary as I am neither 80 nor English, but I do believe she d be the kind of friend I like I share some of her sensibilities and so I read this all the while thinking, Yea, this is exactly what I would write I stopped often to re read certain sentences Just a lovely read.I must read of her enormous body of work.