The Driftway by Penelope Lively

foggy_rosamund's review

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A driftway is a road that has been in use for a long time, often for thousands of years, but in modern times has been replaced by a larger and more direct road. Dritftways were often used for driving cattle from place to place, hence the word "drift", but can go back even to neolithic times. In Lively's book, a driftway is also a place where memories can carry across time. Paul, travelling the driftway, encounters memories from 18th century rogues, from soldiers in the War of the Roses, from a Saxon fleeing the Normans, and so on. This theme fits beautifully with Lively's other work, which often touches on the elision of past and present and how the past is constantly with us. She often explores this theme with great potency and tenderness, and while I enjoyed some aspects of this novel, I did not think it was the best example of her work. The memories or stories that Paul encounters don't feel fully realised, and don't engage the reader enough to make the characters come to life. As well as that, Paul isn't an interesting or persuasive character: he is running away from home because he doesn't like his new stepmother, but over the course of a day he begins to come to terms with the role of his stepmother in his life. Lively always depicts Paul as being in the wrong, and his emotional journey doesn't feel authentic. I really liked the idea of the driftway, and some of Lively's descriptions are totally captivating, but overall this is not one of her stronger novels.

mat_tobin's review

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Although not as accomplished as [b:The House In Norham Gardens|688099|The House In Norham Gardens|Penelope Lively||674454] I still loved this book. When Paul's father takes in a partner, he cannot cope and runs away taking his little sister with him. Why does his father need anyone? How could anyone replace his dead mother and what is there to like about Christine?
When Paul runs away he encounters a stranger taking his horse-drawn cart along the ancient Driftways around and beyond Oxfordshire. Whilst heading to his grandmother's, Paul begins to see nd hear echoes of others who have traveled this route and their stories help him better understand his own.
I agreed so much with Lively's commentary on our connection to the land. A key book for my own research.