Cover image for Spiderweb
Title:
Spiderweb
Author:
Lively, Penelope, 1933-
Personal Author:
Edition:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperFlamingo, 1998.
Physical Description:
218 pages ; 22 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780060192334
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

At age sixty-five, retired anthropologist Stella Brentwood buys a cottage in Somerset, England, and slowly acquires neighbors, a dog, and a professional curiosity about the country village where she intends to settle and put down roots for the first time. The drama of life in the West Country alternates with Stella's powerfully vivid memories of lovers, friends, and her anthropological sojourns in such exotic places as the Nile Valley in Egypt, the island of Malta, and among farmers in the Orkney Islands off the coast of Scotland. She has spent her life studying communities of people--their families, social structures, how they welcomed outsiders into their midst--remaining an observer, privileged to share in their intimate life but not obliged, and finally unwilling, to tie herself closely to any lover, friend or social group.

In Somerset, Stella once again finds an opportunity to become part of the web of relationships that make for human society. Her oldest friend's husband, now widowed, is interested in something more than friendship with her. Her neighbors turn out to be dangerously violent and unstable family, a threat to the entire community as well as Stella herself. An old friend, an archaeologist, poignantly seeks her out for companionship. How will independent-minded Stella, always reluctant to make an emotional commitment, respond?

Written in exquisitely nuanced prose, Spiderweb is a captivating and deeply moving novel, a brilliant vision of our modern experience.


Author Notes

Penelope Lively has written over 18 books for children, and over 15 titles for adults, distinguishing herself on both levels. Among the awards she has received are the coveted Booker Prize for the adult novel "Moon Tiger" (1987) and the Carnegie Medal for the highly acclaimed juvenile work, "The Ghost of Thomas Kempe" (1973).

In Lively's writing, for both adults and children, the recurrent theme is interpreting the past through exploring the function of memory. "My particular preoccupation as a writer is with memory. Both with memory in the historical sense and memory in the personal sense."

Beginning her writing career in the early 1970's, Lively wrote exclusively for children for over a decade. Because children have limited memories, devices were used to explore their perceptions of the past, such as ghosts in "Uninvited Ghosts and Other Stories" (1985), and a sampler in "A Stitch in Time' (1976). Lively's first adult novel, "The Road to Lichfield" (1977) was the result of turning to an older audience when she felt inspiration running out. Her adult novels include "Passing On" (1995), the story of a mother's legacy to her children and 'Oleander, Jacarandi: A Childhood Perceived' (1994) which is a memoir of Lively's childhood.

Penelope (Low) Lively, born March 17, 1933 in Cairo, Egypt, had a most unusual childhood. She grew up in Cairo with no formal education until age 12, when her family put her in boarding school in England. After earning a B.A. in history at Oxford in 1955, she married Jack Lively, a university professor, whom she calls her most useful critic. They have a son and a daughter, Adam and Josephine.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

While Lively's novels always reflect the ironies that life delivers to people looking elsewhere at the time, their insights generally occur in subtle, satisfying observations about society and human nature. Here again she writes of a woman whose interpretation of events is distorted by inbred expectations and the failure to see clearly. Newly retired, unmarried and childless, social anthropologist Stella Brentwood buys a cottage in England's West Country, a region of stolid farmers and bucolic charm. Yet she finds it difficult to settle in: for a professional observer who easily integrated herself into communities in Egypt, Malta and the Orkney Islands, she feels oddly unmoored in her native land. Two people with whom she reestablishes contact‘the widowed husband of her best friend at Oxford and a former colleague, a female archeologist‘awaken memories of Stella's youth, of her one great love, another man who wanted to marry her and the demands of a peripatetic life that prevented her from establishing bonds or maintaining commitment. As Stella adopts a dog, learns about such local institutions as the general store and ruminates on the passage of time and the long shadow of past decisions, she remains unaware of the whirlwind of verbal abuse and simmering violence in the house just down the lane, where an emotionally deranged woman, her husband and her damaged adolescent sons are time bombs about to impact on Stella's life. Lively wisely avoids melodrama in the denouement, choosing instead to suggest Stella's poignant realization that her detachment, independence and self-sufficiency will determine her future as well as her past. Though the leisurely pace and purposefully digressive narrative are somewhat slow to build suspense, Lively's perceptive vision about the insularity of modern life rings true. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Anthropologist Stella Brentwood, who has lived in tents, mud huts, and tiny studio apartments, is about to retire, so she buys a cottage in Somerset, England, and sets about learning to live the country life. Of course, Stella is still an anthropologist, observing the strange customs of her neighborsÄa point Lively (The Five Thousand and One Nights, LJ 1/96) has the grace and good sense to state up front. In the process, Stella gets reacquainted with the husband of her oldest friend, now dead, whose life was decidedly more domestic. (There's some room here for comparing fates, but it's hardly strident or ideological.) Stella also has occasion to encounter her neighbors, a family that seems far more uncivilized and violent than any Stella may have encountered during her work. Stella's new life is, predictably, shattered by a terrible incident involving this family. Lively makes her point, but the pieces of this story don't quite fit. Stella's slow settling into country life is nicely told, but her neighbors never seem quite believable in their ugliness; they're more a device. Buy where Lively is popular.ÄBarbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


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