Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Review: The Photograph

The Photograph begins when a youngish widower finds an old photograph of his dead wife on a picnic with friends.  He becomes obsessively interested in her in a way he never was when she was alive.  Through his search to learn about his wife, we learn about the two of them, as well as her family and circle of friends.

As with every Penelope Lively book I've read, I was really wrapped up in this story.  The characters were fully formed, with interesting lives and complicated relationships.  In contrast, the dead woman at the center of the tale is indistinct, defined neither by occupation nor personality.  Cath is most remembered for being pretty in a purely decorative way -- more than one character describes her as being like a vase of flowers.  Cath's vague character is a useful literary device for developing the other characters and their stories.  She is a foil for the others.

But this device led (for me anyway) to an unsatisfactorily pat ending, as one by one the characters learn Cath's secret and begin to cope with her death.  Looking back from the end, it just did not seem likely that no one in her life understood her enough to realize the one thing that was the most important to her.


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