“The kitchen was the heartland of Allersmead. Of course. That is so in any well-adjusted family home, and Allersmead was a shrine to family.”
Family Album by Penelope Lively
The Allersmead home is like a throwback to another era. Set in contemporary times, the family in question lives in a shabby Edwardian mansion. For Alison nothing was as important as showing how close the family was, but the six children, and the au pair who lives with them well after the children have grown, are anything but close. As a matter of fact each one remembers moments from their lives where events were glossed over in an effort to present a picture of a perfect family.
Charles, the father who seems to live on the periphery of the family, only engages with his children when he talks of the books he is writing. It almost impossible to think that he and Alison once were in love and dated, and likewise, I never saw that Alison resented his lack of participation with the family. She seemed to be too busy keeping up a front and smiling along as she prepared meals, threw parties and was so self-satisfied and perhaps a bit smug even with the image she presented of a happy homemaker.
The novel weaves through the lives of the six children; Paul, Gina, Sandra, Katie, Roger and Clare. Each one so different and each one ready to part ways with Allersmead. They grow up and go away except for Paul who keeps returning home. It’s curious that what Alison was trying so hard to do, keep the family together, was the one thing she couldn’t control. It vexed her to think that her children didn’t want to stay around Allersmead once they were grown.
Where their views on family distorted by what they saw at home? Perhaps, as some seem to have a hard time making permanent connections with significant others and no one wants that many kids, if any. Is the mom to blame? The father? Or are they just rebelling against the way they were brought up?
While each character had a unique perspective on how events unfolded and it was interesting to see that develop, the most enigmatic character is Ingrid, the au pair. The young Scandinavian woman came to the family and never left. At times she seemed resentful and could be cutting with her remarks but no one seems to take exception to that. What drove Ingrid to make her decisions?
Some actions and things are never spoken about in families but somehow they are known by everyone and that is what is at the heart of this book. I think the way that was portrayed in this story was very believable. As was Alison really because despite the fact that she knew things weren’t perfect she was not going to show or give up on how she presented herself to others.
A quiet family drama that simmers with what is left unsaid and the resentments held by each member.
Source: Personal copy