Passign On begins with a death, but the title is more than a euphemistic reference to that event. With its suggestions of movement and change, Passing On proves to be a careful examination of what human beings inherit from one another and what they leave behind as they pass through formative relationships. By focusing on the emotional and psychological damage that Dorothy Glover has done to her children, Penelope Lively explores the consequences of one generation’s intangible legacy to another. There is also the literal passing on of one’s goods: In this case, Dorothy bequeaths her house to her great-nephew, though she grants her children a lifetime tenency, and her wooded property, the Britches, to Helen and Edward.

The novel unfolds as a straightforward, chronological narration interspersed with apposite memories of Helen and Edward. This method of storytelling emphasizes the passage of thirty years, but ironically, it is time in which little or no change has occurred. Much more happens in the real time the book covers, the few months after Dorothy’s death. It is almost as if Helen and Edward have been caught in a time-warp and have an enormous amount of catching up to do. This is exemplified by a trip they take to London, their first trip in years. They recognize few buildings and landmarks, and have no idea how long it takes to cross London by Tube. A restaurant they search for is gone, replaced by an expensive wine bar. They meet stockbrokers in an enormous glass office building that had not existed on their last visit. Their disorientation makes them dependent and childlike, as if their adulthood has been stripped away.


(The entire section is 685 words.)