It’s a truism that old age brings a reawakening of childhood memories. For almost every writer, memory is a rich resource, but things get especially interesting when they undergo that memory reboot in their seventies or eighties. At the age of 84 – and 50 years since her debut From Doon with Death – Ruth Rendell has written a captivating novel about that experience. The Girl Next Door is nominally a crime novel, though the killer is identified at the beginning and the crime (a double murder) occurred in 1944. The case is brought to light by the unearthing of a pair of severed hands. What’s fascinating is the effect the grisly discovery has on the 70-somethings who used to play on the site as children. Memories are stirred and lives are shaken up at a time when the days, months and years might appear to be predictable and unchanging.
Penelope Lively’s brief, meditative memoir, Ammonites & Leaping Fish: A Life in Time, is a treasure trove of memory – from childhood in Alexandria to the ‘hospital years’ of old age – filtered through her precise and discursive prose. She is especially good on the working of memory and how it becomes “the mind’s triumph over time”, as well as childhood amnesia and the importance of teaching history (our collective memory). At 81, Lively has written a rich, absorbing memoir that has you hoping for further novels from this former Booker Prize winner.