The House at Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively

Reading anything by Penelope Lively is like meditating. If you’re feeling anxious or worried about living or dying, or time and how it passes, she somehow manages to leave you serene and peaceful. I can understand why people might not like her books; her main characters usually have a degree of thoughtfulness which makes them seem almost like they are a vacuum sucking up their surroundings and reflecting them and (with their introspection) amplifying them back. It would not suit the more pragmatic and practically minded individual. If you read the books and try and cling to feeling down to earth it’s just not going to work. You have to give yourself up to it, like floating with a current and being swept away.

I also like the way not that much happens in her books. There is no epic story behind it. The supernatural element present in the House at Norham Gardens may be real or may be imagined. There’s a new tenant coming to live with the heroine, there’s a small accident, and that’s it. Yet somehow I was completely caught up and couldn’t stop reading.

Sometimes, after years of living in a big city, I feel a little alarmed to look out of my window and see the horizon with nothing blocking it. No houses, no hills, just the sea stretching out and out. It’s a jarring sort of emptiness and in my head I sometimes fill it with large buildings which clash and jangle to fill it up. And anyway, this is a bit of a strange way of describing it, but Penelope’s books make me happy that it’s just the ocean there, if you see what I mean.

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