Review

Making It Up

by Penelope Lively



A full life contains millions of choices; some are inconsequential,
others have the power to change everything, and sometimes only time
and distance show the true impact. In her new book, Penelope Lively
examines some of the choices that molded her own life and wonders
what would have happened had these choices gone another way. If her
mother had chosen to flee Egypt for South Africa instead of
Palestine during World War II, would they have survived the trip as
so many did not? If she had children at a younger age, married
someone else, and pursued a different career, what would have
happened?

Spanning the years from Word War II to the 1970s, the period of
Lively's youth and young adulthood, MAKING IT UP emphasizes the
precarious nature of those years, personally and culturally, and
how choices made casually colored everything that followed
them.

The theme of alternative endings and the time period will remind
many readers of Ian McEwan's ATONEMENT. A crucial difference is
that ATONEMENT's narrator wishes for a different ending for other
characters; Lively's exercise is focused entirely on her own
choices. Also, she seems happy with the choices she made, giving
the stories in MAKING IT UP a sense of averted crises rather than
of destinies unfulfilled.

However, if this book is lighter and more personal, the reader must
be impressed with Lively's gifts as a novelist. It seems like she
can make a story out of practically anything that has happened to
her. She's so empathetic with her characters; she captures her era
so well and draws her readers in so easily that each story is
entertaining and meaningful.

This is the greatest strength as well as the greatest frustration
of MAKING IT UP. The stories feel like the beginnings of novels,
but they don't go anywhere and they do not connect with one
another. "I should write not one book but hundreds; I should pursue
each idiosyncratic path. Not an option, clearly, and to follow a
single outcome seemed like a constriction..." But the path is only
a path; as it is unchosen, there is no destination.

MAKING IT UP is a good companion to Lively's earlier book, THE
PHOTOGRAPH, in which a collection of objects in an English country
house illustrate early and mid-twentieth century British culture
through the stories of how these objects came to reside
there.

Reviewed by Colleen Quinn on January 7, 2011

Making It Up
by Penelope Lively

  • Publication Date: September 26, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0143037846
  • ISBN-13: 9780143037842