Before last month, I had never heard of Penelope Lively. Then I read Melanie’s review of Making It Up and was intrigued. And then I read Making It Up and was impressed. So thanks to Melanie for her excellent review and inspiring me to check out a new author.
I read Making It Up immediately following Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and found that the two books really compliment each other. Lamott talks about looking at your life, your friends and acquaintances and everything you see in daily life as possible inspiration, as well as for details to include, when writing. Lively takes that one step further and imagines alternate realities for her own life. In other words, what might have happened had this path been followed or this choice been made. Therefore, Making It Up is a collection of short stories, each of which was inspired by a detail from Lively’s own life. She also prefaces and ends each story with a bit of explanation as to what inspired that story. So not only do we get a wonderful group of stories, but we also get a brief glimpse at the inspiration behind each story and the author’s thought processes.
The opening story tells the story of Shirley, a nanny who is travelling with her employer to Capetown, South Africa. It’s WWII, and the British family is fleeing Egypt to escape Rommel and his army. Lively’s own family sought safety from Rommel in Palestine, and this story imagines what might have happened had they instead made the choice of South Africa. In other stories, Lively imagines what might have happened had she been an unwed mother, or if her husband had been captured in Korea, or if she herself had died in an airplane crash.
If you’ve ever played the “what if” game with yourself and wondered what your life might have been like if only you had or hadn’t done a certain thing, then these stories (and Lively’s commentary) will be fascinating. Even if you haven’t, the stories are still interesting, as Lively is a talented writer and the stories offer a brief glimpse into people’s lives.