Saturday, October 31, 2009

122 (2009 #47). The Photograph

by Penelope Lively

More character-driven than plot-driven, this is the sad story of a widower (Glyn) who finds a photograph of his late wife (Kath) surreptitiously holding hands with her sister's (Elaine) husband (Nick), taken by the latter's former business partner (Oliver). Kath's friend Mary is also in the photo, and Glyn proceeds to interrogate all of them to find out if there had been other affairs. The story is told from all these multiple viewpoints, including that of Nick and Elaine's daughter Polly, a favorite of Kath's. We learn a lot about all the narrators (including some of the minutiae of their daily lives - Glyn is a landscape archaeologist and Elaine is a garden designer), but Kath remains an enigma. How she died isn't revealed until near the end, but there are indications all along.

The story is set in England, with British vocabulary, so it's only fitting that the audiobook narrators be British. Actor Daniel Gerroll is, but his wife, actress Patricia Kalember (of Thirtysomething and Sisters TV fame), is American. Both do a fine job creating distinct personalities for the various narrators.

The book's title intrigued me, although the audiobook cover art is misleading (an attempt to portray the photo that's so central to the story seems like the better choice to me). All in all, though, I was disappointed. Very little happens in the story, and the characters are so self-absorbed, it's hard to empathize with any of them. It's no wonder they knew so little about Kath.

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