ACCORDING TO MARK by Penelope Lively


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Yet one more crisply intelligent work by Lively, again fitted-out with her trademarked undertheme: artistic effort blurred by intimacy. Mark lamming is a free-lance biographer, moderately known, someone who's done sturdy if unglamorous work in the past. He's now set his sights on an Edwardian literateur, Gilbert Strong, a novelist of no great distinction but a good essayist and someone very much in the cultural swim of his day. Most of the Strong papers still are kept in his last home, which is now lived in by his granddaughter Carrie (who also owns a gardening center, and uses the house to double as an office). Carrie, unliterary, detached, laid-back to the max, is attractive to the very different Mark (who's married); and on a trip they take together to France (to visit Carrie's mother, Strong's daughter of his old age), the inevitable occurs. But even after sex, Carrie remains uninfatuated--Mark the very opposite. When she walks away from him and goes off to Paris alone, Mark gets the message of Carrie's indifference, however. He returns to his biographizing much sadder--but when he discovers a hidden extramarital affair Strong had had (relegated to some dusty, heretofore unknown letters), Mark finds himself cheered. Strong is no longer merely a subject for a book; he seems like a person for the first time, given to the same passions and disappointments as Mark himself. . .and someone Mark maybe does not want to use so coldly as he first thought, not fit for mere glib summary. Lively keeps all this, pointed as it is, on a very even keel; everyone is subject to an authorial urbanity that allows for a real emotional equality and gentle comedy to boot. Not a book, admittedly, with much surge or special dash--but one with very clear sight and real professional narrative skill.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1985
Publisher: Beaufort