The Purple Swamp Hen

Courtesy of the party in power, this weekend was brutal – from criminal behavior verified to the Senate majority’s appalling approval of the cruelest, most unfair tax bill imaginable (to date, I don’t suppose they are finished yet). The news is bury-your-head worthy.

I’ve done a fair bit of that in the past few months, not talking about it here, trying to not give in to feeling completely defeated, trying to remember the title of the blog.

And now the season I like best is nigh! In spite of snow falling on WordPress and changing the header to one of holiday comforts, the spirit eludes me. But, for the little people who don’t know what a muck some adults are making of it, I want to try, even if by avoidance, to make the magic of the season of lights happen – and to enjoy.

I felt better this morning when I turned to my notes about Penelope Lively’s 2016 book, “The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories.” I love Lively – all her books – and her presence in this troubled world, her wisdom, her staying power. Lively is in her 80s, has endured the arrows of age, but what imagination and facility in one little volume!

In these stories, Lively plays with narration and narrators, with what people say and what they think: the story “A Biography” is written in a series of interviews as though for a biography, “Point of View” retells the theme of the split pea soup story, and in “License To Kill,” where a 20-something accompanies an 80-something (who used to be a spy) to shop for groceries, the alternating thoughts of each reveal kindnesses and surprises. Using a purple swamp hen as narrator (in a time leading up to the eruption, the hen lives in the garden of a villa in Pompeii) allows Lively to call out comparisons between that “benighted age” and our own.

Oh treat yourself to Lively’s book in these uneasy times – or wrap a copy of this beautiful volume, with its purple bookcloth and cover picture of a purple swamp hen, for a favorite person!

9 thoughts on “The Purple Swamp Hen

  1. Thank you, Katy, Your thoughts this morning are shining like the moon on this chilly, dark yet bright morning!

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Love the new header, and the snow falling. And I’m reading that exact book right now, and enjoying it very much. Books are the great escape.

  3. Katy, I have such a sweet story about a piece that you have at the BAC: Chuck reported that the old green leather chair which he had given to his friend Raymond for his little used book/vinyl gallery had been painting lovingly and was hanging in the current show. I immediately thought of you. Raymond’s wife Ann works at the BAC. Chuck took a photo of it, and of course it was your work!!! Chuck suggested that Raymond should buy it, and he agreed but thinks Ann will buy it for him for Christmas. I love this! It’s a precious painting.

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Oh Jane – thanks for telling this story! I took the photo of the chair when we stopped in Raymond’s shop last spring. I knew instantly I wanted to paint it – such a classic chair for reading a book – worn and leather – makes the shop an extra inviting and interesting place!

  4. Love a review for a book that promises hope and connections whether animal, mineral or vegetable with reflections on Pompeii and our contemporary times. Best of holidays, Katy!

  5. Putting The Purple Swamp Hen on my wish list. And trying to find the joy in the season, despite everything the Party in Power is hurling at us.

I love to read your comments - thank you so much for taking the time to leave one!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s