CLEOPATRA'S SISTER by Penelope Lively


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 This latest addition to the Lively oeuvre (The Road to Lichfield, City of the Mind, etc.) is a welcome one--a kind of romance with star-crossed lovers and all, but with a lot more sardonicism than Shakespeare ever vented on Romeo and Juliet. Here, the boy who meets girl is 36-year-old Howard Beamish, a British paleontologist who, after a number of unsatisfactory liaisons, comes to ``have serious doubts about the pair-bonding system,'' and therefore retreats into the ``impartial climate'' of his scientific heartthrob, the Burgess Shale. The girl is Lucy Faulkner, a journalist, who for a number of reasons doesn't let men get too close--chief among them being that her own father flew the coop when she was small. Lively offers periodic check-ins with these two as they approach that moment when they meet and fall in love on a flight to Nairobi that gets grounded in Callimbia, a small African country in the throes of revolution. Interspersed with all this is what the author calls ``A Brief History of Callimbia,'' which follows the nation's course from prehistoric times to the rocky present--all in an effort to show what a dicey enterprise history is, since it cannot tell the whole, true story of events. Meanwhile, the Brits aboard Flight 500 are held hostage by a mad dictator who likes Lucy because she reminds him of his mother; in one particularly funny scene, he forces her to play a board game with him. Lively opts for a happy outcome, though only after a few plot twists that make it clear that the matter of Howard and Lucy in love could very easily have turned out differently. This is amusing in the urbane British way, satiric without ever testing the limits of credibility, larkish but not fluffy--in short, more of the Lively right stuff.

Pub Date: April 14th, 1993
ISBN: 0-06-016667-3
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1993


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