A purple swamp hen, preserved for ever in a Roman fresco, gives a true and hair-raising account of life in Pompeii; a young researcher connects with her ancestors from two centuries ago; an old lady tours the supermarket with her carer – who is surprised find out the old lady’s former profession; a pair of seemingly genteel ladies lunch together at a restaurant, the other diners oblivious to the hatred that sizzles between them; an ex-wife discovers twenty-five years after the break-up of her marriage why it never worked; ghosts disturb marriages and houses; and married couples discover truths about each other that they never suspected.
In this first collection of short stories for twenty years, Penelope Lively shows that she remains a master of her craft, and one of our finest English writers.
"A tour de force . . , Lively has rediscovered the form with this superb collection."
"Immensely enjoyable... Lively’s tone is not elegiac but something far sharper, and she does not twinkle: Lively is not that kind of grandmother. She is funny."
"Thoughtful, intelligent, and light of touch . . . Lively has the gift, rare and wonderful, of being able to peel back the layers one by one and set them before us, translucent and gleaming."
"Spry and world-wise, THE PURPLE SWAMP HEN is an enchanting story that sets the tone for the rest of this stellar collection."
"Penelope Lively has guts and style. She takes a situation and holds it upside down, rattling its pockets until she has squeezed out of it every last ounce of meaning and turned the whole story, stylistically, on a sixpence. You are in the hands of a master who can use a shopping trip to explore the whole spectrum of human behaviour.. Yet there is something unnerving about her ability to see through her protagonists; they get away with nothing, and you, as the reader, feel under scrutiny, too. Here Lively is at her most affecting."
"These stories continue to explore Lively’s obsessions, not only with the mystery of memory, but with the tensions that develop when characters try to sustain a discipline of work while trying to build an intimate life with another person. . . . Her style is a delight."