Length: 530 pages
Setting: England, mostly 1980s, but also flashbacks to WWII
Interest: It was part of the BBC’s The Big Read
Summary: Penelope Keeling, an elderly British lady, has just had a bit of a health scare. She’s back in her own house and making some adjustments, but her children aren’t very helpful. Nancy is a snob and trying desperately to make her awful children upper class by force of appearance (and money) alone. Olivia is very loving, but also very dedicated to her magazine editing career and string of lovers. Noel is just trying to figure out the best place to mooch some more money. Penelope’s marriage was a poor, war-time decision, and we see some of her life then in flashbacks, including a lover who died in action. Much fuss is made about her grandfather’s paintings and how much money they could fetch if Penelope could be persuaded to sell.
Final thoughts: This is a literary fiction-type book so there’s not much action, but lots of relationships to explore. If you don’t like the author’s voice (like I found with One Hundred Years of Solitude), you’ll be bored with the book. Luckily, I liked how Pilcher told her story. Poor Penelope – her kids did not grow into people she actually wanted to be around, except for Olivia, and she was too busy to spend much time with Penelope. Luckily, she was willing and able to find meaningful relationships in people other than family.
There were several times I could tell this was a British author. Every once in a while, she’d use a bit of unfamiliar British slang (I had to look up what a point to point party was, and Penelope was always watering her pot plants in the greenhouse). Also, Nancy was a particular type of British snob, obsessed with appearances and moving up the ladder. You just don’t see that type of social climbing in the U.S.
Title comes from: It was the name of the painting over Penelope’s fireplace that Nancy and Noel so desperately wanted their mother to sell (and of course, give the money realized from the sale to them).
Reading challenges fulfilled: 44/100 in my Finally to 100 Challenge
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