This proved a difficult book to read: put down for a moment it was appropriated by someone else and thereafter continued to journey furtively about the house, pursued by frustrated readers. Treat it like a bar of chocolate or an unjustifiable cream bun and hide it until you have finished it.
Since Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger won the Booker Prize in 1987 there is a faint anxiety that this new novel, Passing On, may be a rushed job, urged on the novelist by her eager publishers. That thought soon vanishes. It is a sensitive and profound tale of an unmarried brother and sister coming to terms with life after the death of their selfish and overbearing eighty-year-old mother. This could sound rather dreary, but in fact the self-awareness of Helen, the daughter, her unblinkered view of herself and her problems, the breathless exits and entrances of her younger sister, Louise, taking occasional breathers from the rat race, flanked sometimes by her daughter who gives ‘a general impression of leather and metalwork’ and her son, ‘black-leathered and slung about with chains’, result in a story that never hangs heavy.
Helen and Edward live in a house that has not been modernised. The kitchen still has the old ceramic sink; the out-dated furniture and rugs have not been changed; the ill-lit cloakroom with its primitive washbasin is hung with generations of stiffening raincoats and ancient headgear. The garden is unkempt