SPIDERWEB by Penelope Lively


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A strong addition to the already impressive list of Lively’s fictional accomplishments (Heat Wave, 1996, etc.), this contemplative tale features a social anthropologist who proves increasingly unable to cope with retirement in her new pastoral home in the west of England, where entanglements good and bad threaten to undo a life of complete self-sufficiency. Unmarried and otherwise unburdened after a career of studying family lineages from the Egyptian Delta to the Orkney Islands, Stella has loved the peripatetic life, but at 65 something appeals to her in the thought of owning a country cottage, not far from where the husband of her dearest and recently deceased friend had also elected to live out his days. Nearby is an archeologist crony, semiretired, and between them Richard and Judith provide all the company that Stella requires, although she also adds a slavishly devoted spaniel to her entourage as a way of convincing herself that she is indeed living the good (rural) life. Old habits die hard, however. Stella can’t keep from turning an objective eye on her community, and so begins to feel like as much of an outsider as she had anywhere else. Reflections on the loves of her life, one a globetrotting journalist, the other an Orkney farmer—both of whom retreated before her unassailable independence—only enhance her alienation, and nothing in the companionable urgings of Richard and Judith can stop the process. When the trouble brewing in a dysfunctional family down the lane spills over into Stella’s life, she realizes that she must remain true to who she is and always has been . . . with the inevitable consequences. A quietly compelling drama with many shades of sadness, this is also a scrupulous portrait, both honest and sympathetic, of the proverbial rolling stone.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-06-019233-X
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1999


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