cover image Dancing Fish and Ammonites: 
A Memoir

Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir

Penelope Lively. Viking, $26.95 (234p) ISBN 978-0-670-01655-6

At 80, Lively, celebrated British novelist and author (How It All Began), examines in five essays the many appealing and noteworthy facets of old age with her expert observer’s eye and eloquent touch. With the aged literally inheriting the earth in greater numbers, Lively is simply fascinated to be among this swelling, far-from-invisible demographic, and in her digressive, erudite, witty narrative, she looks at issues of mortality and degeneration, which slam everyone as they age, as happened to her recently in terms of back and eye problems, and left her widowed after the death of her longtime husband, Jack, 12 years ago; as well she delves into the marvels of memory as the “majestic, sustaining weapon” over the ravages of time. For Lively the realities of old age mean she has given up on traveling (“been there, seen that”) and vigorous gardening, both of which she once threw herself into headlong, yet she has intensified her reading, and in her mellifluous bibliographic essay “Reading and Writing” she returns to some of the formative works of her generation, and which have influenced her own writing, from Beatrix Potter to her beloved blue Pelican paperbacks. Overall, these reflective essays offer a wealth of riches for further study, and help to dispel many of the stereotypes about the aged, from the “smiling old dear to the grumbling curmudgeon,” which she abashedly admits are frequently ossified in fiction. (Feb.)