Making It Up, by Penelope Lively

A collection of seven or eight short stories, each of which is an imagining of a possible alternative reality, inspired by Lively's own past. She uses the term "confabulation" (in the psychological sense of a memory that is false but feels real) to describe these fictions, and that does seem very apt.

I started this immediately after The Old-Girl Network and the difference in prose style was marked, to say the least - it was like getting out of a clapped out taxi into a private limousine: a real treat.

I'm not usually very keen on short stories, but this was a nice way of presenting them: in between each story Lively provides background information on the inspiration for it: e.g. when she was younger she considered applying to work on an archaeological dig, and so the story of a young girl on such a dig is told after Lively has given a short account of her life at the time.

One bit I remembered from The Old-Girl Network was where she said something like this:

Her hair could have done with about 40 worth of highlights, I noted with my expert eye.
I noted this because I thought it would have been more effective without the "expert eye" clause. But I was reminded of it when in one of this book's short stories (told in the first person), there was
I couldn't help noticing she was a bit past her sell-by date.
Similar sentiment, but the effect was quite different: in the Lively book, this comes from a short story about a woman who's passing comment on guests at her husband's funeral. And it's clear from the context that we're meant to take this as a reflection of her character (which is markedly different from others in the book). But in the Alliott story, they're all like that.

The story I found most affecting was the one about the possible Penelope who'd died when her Comet airliner had crashed. Her body wasn't found until decades later, at which point her niece held a memorial party, and from that occasion sprung two new friendships, which were very movingly described.

It was also quite touching that Lively talks of her earlier self as a girl who devoured books and imagined herself in the stories, contrasting that with her situation now: making up stories about her possible pasts, from the other end of her life.

Very good.

Completed : 25-Feb-2009 (audiobook)

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