The Photograph by Penelope Lively is a sensitive and complex novel written with an elegant flair. The novel is a skillful study of accomplished people who are suddenly aware that something is missing in their lives.
Much of the story involves Kath, a beautiful woman who has touched many lives, but who died a few years previously. Her husband Glyn finds an upsetting photograph showing his wife with a group of people, her hands obscurely entwined with her brother-in-law’s. Glyn, an archaeologist, obsessively begins systemically researching the possibilities of the story behind the photograph.
As the book progresses and introduces us to Kath’s circle of friends and relatives, we begin to appreciate her quest for acceptance and love. Admiration and desire aren’t enough, she needs to be accepted on a deeper, committed level.
The author portrays the believable characters as complex and knowledgeable in their various professional fields, specifically Glyn’s scientific background and Kath’s sister, Elaine, a highly accomplished and sought-after gardening specialist. Beyond relatives are others who have been touched by this charming woman who appears so casual and carefree, yet who needs what others seem incapable of giving.
The Photograph is a profound novel of depth. I enjoyed the English setting and language and Penelope Lively’s elegant writing style.