Alison Jean Lester by Andrew Gurnett

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Download discussion questions: US on letter paper, UK on A4.

UK HardbackEdition

UK HardbackEdition

French Edition  Published by Autrement

French Edition
Published by Autrement

Italian Edition Published by Frassinelli

Italian Edition
Published by Frassinelli

German Edition Published by Droemer

German Edition
Published by Droemer

This is the story of Lillian, a single woman reflecting on her choices and imagining her future.  Born in the Midwest in the 1930s, Lillian lives, loves, and works in Europe in the fifties and early sixties. Once she settles in New York, she pursues the great love of her life. Now it’s the early nineties, and she’s taking stock.

Throughout her life, walking the unpaved road between traditional and modern choices for women, Lillian grapples with parental disappointment and societal expectations, wins and loses in love, and develops her own brand of wisdom. Lillian on Life lifts the skin off the beautiful, stylish product of an era to reveal the confused yet vibrant woman underneath.

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"Lillian on Life is a quirky book with a very deep heart and soul. I found it full of life and full of wisdom." - Erica Jong, #1 New York Times best selling author of Fear of Flying

"I absolutely loved Lillian on Life. It was a delight. The style of it so fresh and clever and subversive and there’s something very brave about it." - Kate Atkinson, #1 New York Times best selling author of Life After Life

"What a great voice, what energy and wit.  I enjoyed Lillian's travels, her various jobs, and her lovers. She had moments of great wisdom and I was drawn especially to those.  In the midst of the humor and the happenings, a sentence or two of such profundity. I thought the book was very original and often extremely funny, but always with an edge. My favorite kind of humor. I completely loved it!" - Karen Joy FowlerNew York Times best selling author of The Jane Austen Book Club and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

"In this remarkably mature first novel, Alison Jean Lester has channeled the worldly yet wistful elegance of Colette to portray an unforgettable heroine. Lillian's provocative reflections on love, vanity, sexual intimacy, and surviving as an independent woman over half a century are deeply moving." - Julia Glass, National Book Award Winner and author of Three Junes and The Widower's Tale

"I'll never forget Lillian on Life. Looking backward, she's brutally honest about her needs, her lovers, her parents. Salinger could have invented her...Roth would have loved her...and so will you. A rare book, a little raunchy, but very rich and very real." - Ilene Beckerman, author of Love, Loss, and What I Wore

"What a splendid book! By turns acerbic and warm, urbane and homespun, Lillian On Life is – like its protagonist – charming, funny and unabashedly smart. But as slender and enjoyable as this book is, it’s much more than simply a lark. Each elegantly compressed chapter leaves us luxuriating in thought: about the snippets of experience so vividly depicted, and about those that have been, with perfect art, left out." - Leah Hager Cohen, author of The Grief of Others and No Book but the World

"A beautifully written, deft debut; edgy, elegant Lillian will stay with you." Adele Parks best selling author of Spare Brides and Husbands


The Lillian of Alison Jean Lester’s dazzling first novel, “Lillian on Life,” is a single woman of a certain age. ... In short vignettes, Lillian looks back, drawing an impressionistic portrait of a bold life full of ad­ven­ture — erotic and otherwise — in prose spiked with unflinching observations, riotous riffs and poignant reflections. - Eugenia Zukerman, The Washington Post (full review here)

In a remarkably confident debut, a woman’s life is revealed through fragments and meditations hinting at a life of great daring and unrealized dreams. ... A slim novel that feels just perfect—each thought measured, each syllable counted, a kind of haiku to an independent woman. - Kirkus (read the full starred review here)

Lester’s novel about a tenacious, well-traveled heroine of a certain age is replete with the profound and comical observations of a vivacious spirit. – O, The Oprah Magazine

The novel is a cleverly executed feminist bildungsroman that you could easily share with your mother, sister, friend, or, probably most appropriately, life coach. – Yasmeen Gharnit, NYLON (full review here)

This lively and insightful debut novel holds up the decisions women make every day to analysis and introspection. It is startlingly frank and sometimes funny or shocking or heartbreaking. There’s a raw and intimate quality to the first-person narrative that counterbalances the vignette structure…. While this book is more demanding than typical women’s fiction, the rewards are worth the time. It’s a strong choice for book groups and readers seeking something different. - Amy ­Brozio-Andrews, Library Journal

A wry and poignant look at middle age - A mix of “live and let live” and the dos and don’ts from her midcentury upbringing, the heroine of Lillian on Life slides off the page as real, complicated and contradictory... In Lillian, Lester has created a wry, self-conscious, introspective woman with a memorable voice to match. Like a portrait painted over and over, Lillian bears the evidence of many revisions. Her vulnerability is palpable in every story she relates. Each chapter acts like a signpost on Lillian’s journey to find peace with herself. - Melissa Brown, BookPage (full review here)