This is the second Penelope Lively I've read - I really didn't enjoy the first one (Making It Up) but thought I should give her another go as so many people who's judgement I trust admire her. When 'Oleander, Jacaranda' came my way I admit I wasn't overly enthusiastic about reading it - which is hardly the ideal way to approach a book - but eventually got on with it anyway. It's another sort of biography. Where 'Making it Up' was an exercise in imagining what might have been (but less fun than that sounds) 'Oleander, Jacaranda' is part autobiography part meditation on the difference between adult and childhood perceptions. It sounds like the sort of book I should like.
That I didn't particularly enjoy it is almost certainly because I cannot warm to Lively as a personality and to read an autobiography with any pleasure I suppose you have to either admire or like the author (or dislike them so much you can enjoy having all your prejudices confirmed). I haven't read enough of her work to develop any admiration for Lively as a writer which was a handicap that her voice in this book didn't overcome; if anything it was the opposite and I was strongly reminded if people I've found tedious at dinner parties - and from there it's all down hill.
That's not a very rational response, though it's one reason why I don't read many biographies and actively avoid them when it comes to favourite authors - you can't escape into a written world quite so happily if it's creator turns out to be obnoxious. Not that Lively comes across as obnoxious , she really doesn't, but the world of an only child who spends most of her time alone or with her nanny/governess felt quite claustrophobic to me as a reader. There are things she has to say about the nature of time and distance, homesickness, and culture shock that resonate but overwhelmingly there is a sense of self absorption - which is basically the point of the book.
Lively is looking at her own memories much as an archeologist might examine physical remains and trying to fit them in to the known history of the period. In this case war time Egypt. For the most part her recollections are of smells, colours, and the general texture of her own every day life against which the war makes very little impact - and why would it. Overlaid on the original impressions are layers of created and shared memory that come with hindsight and the telling of stories and all the inconsistencies they bring.
In theory these are themes that are right up my street, and when I made myself get on with the book I found enough of interest to make finishing it fall short of the chore I feared it might become but in the end there was no spark. I don't think I'll be trying Lively again, at least not anytime soon, she's better left to those who do find the right chemistry with her writing.