Other reviewers have called this book quiet, but I would rather just call it boring. That said, it’s an old Booker Prize short-lister (1977) and I read and almost always enjoy Booker Prize material with the Booker Prize reading group. In this novel, the elderly and widowed father of Anne Lenton, a middle-aged married woman with children, is dying in a nursing home. So she leaves her husband and children in Berkshire to go to the not-too-distant Lichfield, where he resides intending to help him straighten out his affairs. While there she meets her father’s very nice but sad and lonely married neighbor and yes, within a short time they become lovers.
The Road to Lichfield
by Penelope Lively
1977 / 209 pages (Kindle)
While sorting through her father’s affairs a banker tells her that for many years moderate-sized checks have been sent to one Betty Barron who lives in another town. Anne is curious and investigates.
Meanwhile, in her own home town, Anne is cajoled into helping preserve a very old house called Splatt’s Cottage. Well, Anne is a history teacher and values history so she gets involved there, too.
The characters seemed a bit flat and predictable to me – and their names are Anne, Don, David, Paul, Betty, Mary, etc. Only Graham Stanton, a film producer and Anne’s chubby brother, has an interesting name – or maybe that was a very common name in the UK in the 1970s. And maybe the story is about normal humans and “universal themes, ” so to speak.
There is one shining part in the book – the 80-year old James Stanton has some kind dementia and drifts from our shared reality into his own world. These passages are beautifully rendered and endearing.
Otherwise the writing was clear but lackluster – actually, the writing was kind of ponderous for the type of book I thought it was supposed to be. Maybe with a British accent the rhythm would have taken hold. The setting did nothing for me but I suppose it was written for people who knew the area. The theme of history and skeletons in old closets was a bit interesting – be careful before you go digging around in artifacts and documents of the past.