City of the Mind

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Penelope Lively’s CITY OF THE MIND centers on London architect Matthew Halland, a recently divorced father with visiting privileges to his eight-year-old daughter, Jane. During the course of the narrative, Matthew takes Jane on outings, reflects on his failed marriage, contemplates a brighter future with his new friend, Sarah Bridges, and has several intriguing encounters with an amoral character named Rutter.

The narrative, however, is not confined to a single time; rather, it consistently shifts to other times and events: “For this is the city, in which everything is simultaneous. There is no yesterday, nor tomorrow, merely weather, and decay, and construction.” The author uses Matthew’s perspective as an architect to evoke London’s past and present: its Gothic cathedrals, Greek temples, Victorian stucco, Georgian brick, and twentieth century concrete. Lively also shifts perspective intermittently to show glimpses of other people of previous eras—for example, a nineteenth century paleontologist, an Elizabethan seaman, and a London air raid warden during World War II.

In this novel, Lively has attempted a difficult task. Although at times confusing, the narrative succeeds in evoking multiple temporal layers of the city of London, where modern structures rise from the decaying remains of past civilizations, and where Matthew will build a new relationship upon the ruins of a failed marriage.

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In City of the Mind Lively uses an unusual narrative structure, which readers accustomed to conventional novels may find jarring and...

(The entire section is 296 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Like Moon Tiger, City of the Mind invites fruitful, controversial discussion, with some readers appreciating the book's tricky...

(The entire section is 602 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Set in late 1980s London and featuring as its protagonist a prototypical modern man, City of the Mind explores many contemporary...

(The entire section is 302 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In theme and technique, this novel reveals the influence of modernism, recalling in particular James Joyce's Ulysses (1922) and...

(The entire section is 263 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Of all Lively's novels, City of the Mind is closest in kind to Moon Tiger (1987) and Cleopatra's Sister, especially the...

(The entire section is 109 words.)