A glimmering collection of new short fiction from the Booker Prize winner.
“Lively writes with an astringent blend of sympathy and detachment, emotional wisdom and satiric wit.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
In such acclaimed novels as The Photograph, Family Album, and How It All Began, Penelope Lively has captivated readers with her singular blend of wisdom, elegance, and humor. Now, in her first story collection in decades, Lively takes up themes of history, family, and relationships across varied and vividly rendered settings.
In the title story, a Mediterranean purple swamp hen chronicles the secrets and scandals of Quintus Pompeius’s villa, culminating with his narrow escape from the lava and ash of Vesuvius. “Abroad” captures the low point of an artist couple’s tumultuous European road trip, trapped in a remote Spanish farmhouse and forced to paint a family mural and pitch in with chores to pay for repairs to their broken-down car. Other stories reveal friends and lovers in fateful moments of indiscretion, discovery, and even retribution—as in “The Third Wife,” when a woman learns her husband is a serial con artist and turns a house-hunting trip into an elaborately staged revenge trap.
Each of these delightful stories is elevated by Lively’s signature graceful prose and eye for the subtle yet powerfully evocative detail. Wry, charming, and keenly insightful, The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories is a masterful achievement from one of our most beloved writers.
About the Author
Penelope Lively is an award-winning novelist and author of children’s literature. She received the Booker Prize for her novel Moon Tiger and wide acclaim for The Photograph and How It All Began. Lively is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a member of PEN and the Society of Authors. In recognition of her contributions to British literature, she has been appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She lives in London.
“The stories are compact yet often novelistic in scope, deftly alighting on the seemingly trivial moments that determine the direction of relationships and lives.”
—The New Yorker
“Impressive, surprising, and fun.”
—Boris Kachka, New York Magazine
“Lively’s productivity has been so steady and reliable that she is sometimes taken a little for granted. In this country she is not nearly as well-known as she ought to be. . . . Her prose is sharp, precise, perfectly pitched, but shrinks from flashiness. . . . Her books just get crisper and more tightly controlled.”
—Charles McGrath, The New York Times Book Review
“Throughout, Lively deftly and crisply reveals the challenges and secrets in domestic relationships, as well moral and emotional qualms and the unexpected arc of unsung individual lives. . . . So graceful is her prose, so acute her understanding of the ‘muddle’ of human behavior and emotional chaos beneath British reserve, it is clear this compact format also is Lively’s métier.”
—The Seattle Times
“Lively has an impeccable ear. All stories but one are animated by an unflappable omniscient narrator, swimming effortlessly between exterior and interior points of view. Lively is considered a traditional writer, but her unconventional transitions are subtly experimental. . . . Her stories reinvent the world.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“One of the wonderful things about short story collections like Penelope Lively’s is their diversity of settings. . . . Lively’s writing is poignantly funny, and the theme seems to be one we can all relate to: the existential misunderstanding of one another and the impossibility of changing this fact. Managing to juggle the light and dark as only the most skilled can, Lively’s collection is well worth your time and emotions.”
—Read It Forward
“How well do we ever know another person? That’s the leitmotif of this witty but piercing new collection by Man Booker winner Lively. . . . Even in her darkest tales, Lively’s fundamentally serious take on our tangled emotional lives is never bleak, merely ruefully accepting. A treasure trove of fictional gems.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Lively struts her stuff in this collection of delectably acerbic and canny short stories. In gin-and-tonic prose, Lively, steeped in history and fluent in English conventions, is keenly forensic when it comes to the nature of hypocrisy and stoicism, secrecy and lies. . . . . Lively, perfect for fans of the Margarets Atwood and Drabble, as well as Shirley Jackson, neatly tracks class divides, the fizzling of marriages, and a long-brewing rivalry. Droll fables and mordant ghost stories round out this adroitly wise and mischievous gathering.”
“The same measured intelligence and subtle humor that characterizes Lively’s novels is present in this story collection. The stories often bear rereading, as Lively’s quiet elegance rolls by so smoothly. . . . Effortless and masterly.”
Praise for Penelope Lively
“Lively writes with an astringent blend of sympathy and detachment, emotional wisdom and satiric wit.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“One of our most talented writers.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“A consummate storyteller.”
—The Seattle Times
“In her own late seventies now, with a legion of regular readers and newcomers with every book, Lively continues to surprise and illuminate, writing to ever more dazzling effect.”
—The Boston Globe
“Witty, gentle-humored, sharp . . . Lively is a keen observer and an engaging narrator.”
—NPR’s All Things Considered