The Photograph

As I age, I sometimes look at the small, seemingly insignificant things that I've kept through the years; diaries, receipts, notes, photos that all have some special meaning to me, and wonder what will happen to them when I am gone. Having gone through the heartbreak of losing both of my parents at a relatively young age, I know that some of my souvenirs will strike a chord with my family, but others will leave them mystified as to why I kept them. It's those items that, when found, can stir the finder's imagination. Maybe the item will reveal something about you that you never shared, or maybe it's just a reminder of a sweet memory that was nothing more than that. Either way, the secrets we keep are many times revealed after we're on our way.

From Bookread: "Prize-winning novelist Penelope Lively's novel opens with a snapshot: Kath, before her death, at an unknown gathering, holding hands with a man who is not her husband. The photograph is in an envelope marked "DON'T OPEN - DESTROY." But Kath's husband does not heed the warning, embarking on a journey of discovery that reveals a tight web of secrets: within marriages, between sisters, and at the heart of an affair. Kath, with her mesmerizing looks and casual ways, moves like a ghost through the memories of everyone who knew her - and a portrait emerges of a woman whose life cannot be understood without plumbing the emotional depths of the people she touched.

Propelled by the author's signature mastery of narrative and psychology, The Photograph is Lively at her very best, the dazzling climax to all she has written before."

What you've just read is a highly accurate synopsis of this intriguing story, The Photograph, by Penelope Lively. This is a beautifully crafted read about who and what we leave behind, as much as it is a reflection of how we live on earth. Once I started I couldn't put it down.

The writing is relatable, the characters flawed and human and likable. From the moment Kath's husband finds the "DON'T OPEN - DESTROY" envelope, we're taken through the full range of emotions he feels; is this something I really want to see, should I honor the message of the person who left it behind, if they didn't want it seen then why didn't they just destroy it? There is so much more great writing in that early chapter than so many other novels I've read, combined. I'm happy that I never found any mysterious envelopes like that when clearing out my parent's things, but what would I have done if I had? Why on earth would someone keep such a thing if they really didn't want it ever to be seen, knowing that at some point someone somewhere, family member or not will see it? Is it that perhaps they somehow, in their heart of hearts DID want someone to find it, to possibly remember them and to consider their life a little bit more?

Through the different relationships people had with Kath we learn how she lived and how she was perceived. We are reminded again of how complicated life is, and what it means to be human, warts and all. We may relive the place we had in someone else's journey through a completely different lens. Let's face it, our perception of someone, unless challenged, often becomes our reality. Do we protect those we love with the secrets we keep?

Although this book isn't new, it's absolutely worth a read. It's thought-provoking, well-written and intriguing. Penelope Lively's writing puts us in the room with the characters while also putting us in their heads. This book is beautiful.

I highly recommend you check out this title. I think it would be an especially interesting book club share. I also highly recommend that you not leave an envelope behind with "DON'T OPEN - DESTROY" unless you want your secrets, and quite possibly your true soul, to be revealed to the reader. Intriguing, isn't is?

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