cover image The Road to Lichfield

The Road to Lichfield

Penelope Lively. Grove/Atlantic, $17.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-1134-0

Lively's growing audience of discriminating readers will welcome the belated U.S. publication of her first novel, issued in England in 1977. This quiet but moving book betrays few earmarks of the neophyte: Lively's economical yet evocative use of language, her preoccupation with history as a force in individual lives, and her dry wit are all in evidence here. The year she turns 40, two crises interrupt Anne Linton's orderly routine as the wife of an uncommunicative and slightly boring solicitor, mother of two teenagers, and part-time teacher of history. Her father's terminal illness necessitates her frequent traveling to Litchfield in the Midlands from her Berkshire home, and throws her into contact with schoolmaster David Fielding, with whom she begins an affair. On the surface her existence remains the same, but as she discovers a major secret in her father's life and pursues a clandestine life of her own, she must acknowledge the subjective nature of memories and reassess her own attitudes about the past. She is moved to question her involvement with a group of architectural preservationists who fight the demolition of old buildings, no matter how decrepit and useless, and turn antique artifacts into chic decorative objects. (Lively goes a bit overboard in her portrayal of one character who is obsessed with doing good--``a prettier woman would have taken up adultery''--but her humor has bite.) (Feb.)