Ammonites & Leaping Fish

Lively, Penelope

  17 Reviews

Take one life lived out over eight decades, choose six objects of personal significance, narrow down a lifetime of reading to a handful of books, generally reflect on memory, identity and your life and times, and you have a powerful formula with which to examine a life well lived.

In this delightfully idiosyncratic memoir, Penelope Lively does just this. Written through the lens of age and experience, this book is a perceptive and scintillating read from a much loved writer. [Larger font]

Comments from Groups

A wonderful reflection from a wise and literate woman, who had led a rich life. We enjoyed reading about the 3 books she could not live without, and the special things she would want to take with her, and her reasons. We enjoyed the new words we had to consult a dictionary for. Wellington 036

We found this book interesting, beautiful, and generally we all enjoyed it. Penelope Lively's eloquence had us delving into Thesaurus and Google, so we were definitely extending our education, and memories as well. Notes were excellent. Wellington 041

A mixed reaction to this book - too close to the bone for these septuagenarians! However, we did appreciate the beautiful prose. Those who enjoyed the book agreed with Joan Curry - "At last! Someone is speaking up for the invisible, forgotten "us", and "we are the people we have always been - splendidly various". Penelope Lively put into words our feelings regarding old age. Excellent book notes, and the discussion questions generated an erudite discussion within the group about being older, and the changes in our lifetimes. Paraparaumu 001

Our group had a very mixed reaction to the book. Most weren't happy with the essay style of writing. Older people enjoyed it, but the younger members found it boring. Most thought it would have been more interesting as a memoir. Ashburton

An absolute treasure. Enjoyed by all. Doubtless Bay 002

This is for the 70/80+ age group, and we all found it a 'special' read. The cover adjectives describe it well. Superb, elegant and thoughtful. We had a good discussion and shared experiences. Much wisdom within. Christchurch 043

Very well written (well, it IS Penelope Lively) but the group found that the content was not as gripping as some of her other fiction or her autobiography. Wellington 046

A book one would like to have on one's shelf. Beautifully, subtly written, her love of history and the English language demonstrated superbly. Non-judgemental, accepting, and it draws beautiful pictures. Several felt the urge to go back and re-read everything Penelope has written. Upper Hutt 001



Interesting, well-written, and enjoyable.
We all enjoyed the first essay on death, and we had a very good discussion.
MTMA 001
Half loved it, half disliked it - but with several members 80+ it promoted great discussion and agreement that Penelope Lively got it all pretty spot on.
CHCH 449
None of our members enjoyed this book. We disagreed on the writing style - some liked it, others didn't, but we all felt that, apart from the references to Egypt, there was nothing of interest in the telling. No one has read any of the author's previous books but we may do so in the hope of more enjoyment.
The general feeling (at first) was that this was not a very engaging read, but interestingly, the discussion suggested otherwise. As we talked, it became apparent that everyone had gained insights into time, memory, our personal reading choices and the significance of certain of our material possessions. All agreed that Penelope Lively's writing is beautiful. While she made all of us reflect on our own histories, some of us wish she'd given us more of her own.
Responses from both ends - some readers found the book sleep-inducing; some an interesting insight into aging, how memory happens, and connections that trigger different memories. The concept of timelessness triggered lots of discussion. Interesting idea of 6 short stories (essays). Living in the now may be different at different ages; still of value.
3 of the group didn't finish it. 1 ordered a copy for her mother to read. The rest found it interesting.
WANG 004
A very attractive book, especially for older readers.
AUCK 014
Most members of our group enjoyed this book. Two people thought the beginning and the chapter on growing up in Egypt were particularly interesting, and then it 'tailed off'. I thought that there were many insightful comments from the writer, which I related to. The writer's acceptance of a less active life was counterbalanced with an appreciation of what she had in her immediate locality, and an ongoing interest in life and people.
AUCK 008
All bar one of our group liked this book, possibly because we are all around, or fast approaching, Penelope's age. We related especially to her perceptive views on aging, and enjoyed discussing our experiences of her 'collective' memories and her love of books. We would be keen to read more of her work.
WELL 001
We were disappointed in the book. A number of people in the group were fond of Penelope Lively's short stories, which is why we selected the book. It doesn't really hang together: five different pieces, with a preface. The discussion struggled rather - no one strongly advocated for the book.
AUCK 105
The book received many favourable comments. We enjoyed the style of writing with most members able to recall phrases that struck a note with them.
AUCK 335
We all loved this book - engaged with it immediately and found much which resonated with our own experience. Loved her way with words, her ability to reflect deeply yet be utterly grounded. Her description of widowhood is so simple yet so profound. Much to get one's teeth into, and a great discussion ensued.
TAKA 003
A wide range of opinions ranging from "boring" to "exquisite". It certainly generated lots of discussion. Those who enjoyed the book noted its elegant and evocative style. Those who didn't, commented on a slow pace and some technical shortcomings.
Enjoyed by all. We are an older group and related to the book. We share some of her experiences and views. An intelligent, thoughtful but nevertheless easy to read book.
TAUR 016
An enjoyable read written by an academic and fascinating woman. It certainly gave an encouraging view on the aging process. The last chapter prompted great discussion on treasures that WE have collected over the years.
MAST 004
A charming and memory provoking read. Well-written and easy to read.