An insightful book of self-reflection from the acclaimed novelist—“not quite a memoir,” she writes, but “the view from old age.”
Every few years since the 1970s, British author Lively (How It All Began, 2012, etc.) has published a slim, delicious novel, mixing sympathy and satire with a Chekhov-ian focus on time, mortality and wasted opportunities. Born in Cairo in 1933 and raised in World War II–era Egypt, she described her childhood in Oleander, Jacaranda (1994), but this insightful reflection on her life is not merely the second volume of her memoirs or, as she notes, even much of a memoir at all. Autobiographical details appear, but for the most part, Lively ruminates on a handful of subjects of universal interest on which a perceptive 80-year-old can speak with authority. She remains the person she has always been, encumbered by various indignities and disabilities but less preoccupied by death than concern that young people take for granted that the elderly are boring. Readers will share her amazement at society’s seismic changes since the mid-20th century. When he learned of the 14-year-old’s crush on a distant relative, an uncle warned that he was “queer,” and Lively was mystified. Learning about Oscar Wilde during a theater outing, her granddaughter exploded, “I don’t believe you! He went to prison because he was gay?!!” The faithful will recognize the author’s love of archaeology, and many will keep a pen handy to record titles and authors, since reading is one activity age has not diminished, and Lively is not shy about musing over her favorites.
Readers will share her relief that dementia has not made an appearance. Although they will long for her next novel, few will regret that she has taken time off to write this unsentimental, occasionally poignant meditation on a long life, mostly well spent.