PASSING ON by Penelope Lively
Kirkus Star


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Lively's eighth novel, superior in delicacy of tone and craft, views a contemporary ""brutal world"" of rampaging greed through the gentle, spare, vulnerable lives of a sister and brother who persist in not taking account of its dangers or excesses. Horrid, bullying Dorothy, mother of Helen, 52, Edward, 49, and Louise 43, has at last expired at age eighty. Dorothy's death, muses Helen, who lives with brother Edward in Greystones--the moldering huge house that Dorothy has left to a nephew in order to save taxes--has left a ""black hole."" From the unkempt garden to the kitchen (redolent of rotting dishcloths), Helen, a part-time librarian in the Cotswold village, constantly meets Mother's punishing presence. Both Helen and Edward, a mild-mannered schoolteacher and rabid conservationist, are dowdy, honest as rain, and quietly shelter within themselves years of hurt and anxiety. In the meantime, sister Louise--stressed by career and marriage and her two teen-agers (to Helen's amusement, the teens were ""black-leathered and slung about with chains"" at the funeral)--urges improving comforts at ill-heated Greystones. But Helen and Edward agree: ""so far as money and possessions are concerned, we're at a more primitive stage than the rest. We're not interested in surplus."" But Helen and Edward are about to become victims of disastrously belated releases of desires and yearnings. Both will survive loss, fear, and horror--to attain what Helen recognizes as ""an interesting sense of the future. A sense that things can be done: by me, by Edward."" And the magnetic ""black hole"" that was the dead Dorothy is no more. An exquisitely patterned and witty tribute to pacific souls indecently victimized--who ""make do"" firmly through psychic crises in a world of ""making it.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1989
ISBN: 0802136265
Publisher: Grove Weidenfeld