cover image Passing on

Passing on

Penelope Lively. Grove/Atlantic, $17.95 (210pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-1155-5

Greystones is a moldy, drafty house of no great distinction located in the equally nondescript English town of Spaxton. The domineering and cantankerous Dorothy Glover has finally passed away, leaving her middle-aged progeny, Helen and Edward, to examine their lives, both past and future. It's a subtle plot and one that does well with Lively's ( The Road to Lichfield ) gently assured style. By revealing developments through small details--the discarded dishrags that mark the beginning of a relationship and the glimpse of a watch that signals its end--she delicately delineates the impact of love, scandal and turmoil. On the rare occasion when Lively gives reign to sweeping statements, as when the dramatic Louise comments on motherhood (``At the moments you wish you were shot of the whole thing you know perfectly well that it's precisely because you couldn't endure to be without it, now you know about it, that you've got to go through all this''), her writing doesn't quite ring true. But such instances are rare in this consistently engrossing tale. (Feb.)