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How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively
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How It All Began: A Novel (edition 2012)

by Penelope Lively

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7094713,323 (3.73)211
Member:vancouverdeb
Title:How It All Began: A Novel
Authors:Penelope Lively
Info:Viking Adult (2012), Hardcover, 240 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:fiction, London, British fiction, relationships, contempory British Literature

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How It All Began by Penelope Lively

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Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
I am a fan of Ms. Lively's work, in the same way that I enjoy Anne Tyler. I enjoyed most of the characters in this book. Jeremy was initially annoying, later he became trying, but since he was his own worst enemy I figured he would punish himself. Henry was funny at first but later annoying enough that I considered not reading his sections, but then he became amusing when his narcissism allowed others to take advantage of him. I loved Charlotte, Rose, Anton and, even, Marion, and wanted the best for each of them. I applaud Ms. Lively's realistic ending, though I could have done without her giving us the final wrap up of everyone's life. I much prefer it when the author lets us decide where the characters lives will journey next. ( )
  whymaggiemay | Feb 16, 2017 |
(4) This seems a very British style of writing. well-crafted, intelligent narrative rich in character and psychologic tension, quiet desperation - seemingly very true to life. In this novel, there is the 'butterfly effect' in evidence and referred to throughout the novel - a random event - the mugging of an elderly woman - has repercussions on several interrelated people sending their lives in entirely different directions. The woman's married daughter, Rose, meets a intriguing Eastern European immigrant, Rose's employer needs his niece, Marion, to accompany him to a speech as Rose is unavailable, Marion's married boyfriend receives a text from her canceling her plans which his wife sees, and so on and so on. . a few affairs, a few poor business deals, a public humiliation - lives are quietly turned upside down based on mere happenstance. The theme is the randomness of life and identity and it swirls around several engaging characters.

This is a short and easily read novel that seemed a bit too pat by the end, but was enjoyable all the same. There were a lot of British cultural political references which I didn't get, but it didn't seem to matter. A lot of literary shout-outs which I did get. Not a lot to criticize, but likely not a particularly memorable novel when all is said and done. While I like the no-nonsense, non-gimmicky prose of most contemporary British writers - I think I prefer a bit more either mystery a la Ruth Rendell, drama a la Ian McEwan, or history, like Rose Tremain -- all authors that are similar to Penelope Lively (at least based on the few novels of hers I read.)

A good quick read; light - though not as brainless as genre fiction. I will come back to this author. I think maybe one of her novels has won a Booker (?Moon Tiger) so maybe I will try that next time. ( )
  jhowell | Jan 16, 2017 |
This book was not one of the authors best I'm afraid. The whole premise of following one small event's effect on all the characters seemed very forced and really not very fun. ( )
  Iambookish | Dec 14, 2016 |
This is a very enjoyable contemporary novel. I loved it. It shows how one incident can be the catalyst for change in many lives. ( )
  HelenBaker | Sep 2, 2016 |
Look at the diverse opinions of the reviewers - lots of people I know and trust, who write helpful reviews, both love and loathe this book, and others by Lively. Hmmm...
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 5, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
How It All Began begins in uncharacteristically violent fashion: "The pavement rises up and hits her. Slams into her face, drives the lower rim of her glasses into her cheek." Charlotte, a retired schoolteacher in her late 70s, finds that she has been mugged and relieved of her house keys, bank cards and £60 in cash. As a reader, you share her sense of shock and bewilderment – after all, one might expect to be reasonably safe from street crime in a Penelope Lively novel; though the book introduces a number of elements you wouldn't ordinarily expect to find, including East European immigrants, chocolate cream frappuccinos and errant text messages used as a plot device.

It soon becomes apparent that being knocked down has a knock-on effect. Charlotte is forced to move in with her daughter Rose while she recuperates, which means that Rose is unable to accompany her employer, Lord Peters, to receive an honorary doctorate in Manchester. His Lordship's niece, an interior designer named Marion, goes with her uncle instead, though a text explaining her absence is intercepted by the wife of her lover, thus hastening the demise of their marriage. It all unfolds with the inescapable logic of a well-oiled farce, though every so often Lively's authorial voice intrudes to comment on the domino-toppling effect: "Thus have various lives collided, the human version of a motorway shunt, and the rogue white van that slammed on the brakes is miles away, offstage, impervious."

The novel contains some of Lively's funniest and most enjoyable character studies, not least the pompous bubble of self-esteem that is the academic relic Lord Peters; once a leading authority on Walpole, he now worries that "the 18th century has passed him by", and hopes to re-establish his reputation with a David Starkey-style television series. Lively is deliciously intolerant of interior designers – Marion's paramour, who runs a reclamation yard, is painted as little more than an jumped-up junk merchant; while Marion's business is principally based on the resale of "a cargo of interior adornments forever on the move, filtering from one mansion flat or bijou Chelsea terrace house to another".

Yet the most telling relationship is that which develops between the comfortably married Rose and Anton, an economic migrant who comes to visit Charlotte for literacy lessons. Rose surprises herself by developing an affection for this timid man with soulful eyes and fractured English, but sensibly limits the relationship to wistful strolls round London parks and weekend assignations in Starbucks.

Anton, a trained accountant, has had to accept work on a building site while struggling to master the language. Charlotte achieves a breakthrough by throwing away the standard uninspiring teaching materials and presenting him with a copy of Where the Wild Things Are. "I am like child," he says, happily. "Child learn because he is interested … Story go always forward – this happen, then this. That is what we want. We want to know how it happen, what comes next. How one thing make happen another."

It can only be a matter of time before Anton graduates from Maurice Sendak to Penelope Lively novels, as she remains a sublime storyteller – the opening sentence has us riveted with curiosity as to what will happen next. Yet she also keeps us consistently aware of the nature of the illusion. "So that was the story," she concludes, "so capriciously triggered because something happened to Charlotte in the street one day. But of course this is not the end of the story … These stories do not end, but spin away from one another, each on its own course." In other words, they momentarily collide and separate to form the kind of narrative at which Lively excels: the untidy, unpredictable one in which everyone lives ambivalently ever after.
added by VivienneR | editThe Guardian, Alfred Hickling (Nov 18, 2011)
 
*Starred Review* The ruling vision of master British novelist Lively's latest is the Butterfly Effect, which stipulates that a very small perturbation can radically alter the course of events. The catalyst here is a London mugging that leaves Charlotte, a passionate reader and former English teacher become adult literacy tutor, with a broken hip. She moves in with her married daughter, Rose, to recuperate. Rose works for Henry, a lord and once-prominent historian, whose ego is as robust as ever but whose mind is faltering. With Rose out helping her mother, Henry prevails upon his niece, Marion, an interior designer, to accompany him out of town, where she meets a too-good-to-be-true client. When she texts her lover, to postpone a rendezvous, his wife intercepts the message. Charlotte begins tutoring Anton, who affirms her ardor for language and awakens Rose out of her smothering stoicism. Throughout this brilliantly choreographed and poignant chain-reaction comedy of chance and change, Lively shrewdly elucidates the nature of history, the tunnel-visioning of pain and age, and the abiding illumination of reading, which so profoundly nourishes the mind and spirit.--
added by kthomp25 | editBooklist, Donna Seaman
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Penelope Livelyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bentinck, AnnaReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kellgren, KatherineNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Rachel and Izzy
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The pavement rises up and hits her.
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History is a slippery business; the past is not a constant, but a landscape that mutates according to argument and opinion.
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When . . .
Charlotte is mugged and breaks her hip, her daughter Rose cannot accompany her employer Lord Peters to Manchester, which means his niece Marion has to go instead, which means she sends a text to her lover which is intercepted by his wife, which is . . . just the beginning in the ensuing chain of life-altering events.
In this engaging, utterly absorbing and brilliantly told novel, Penelope Lively shows us how one random event can cause marriages to fracture and heal themselves, opportunities to appear and disappear, lovers who might never have met to find each other and entire lives to become irrevocably changed.
Funny, humane, touching, sly and sympathetic, How It All Began is a brilliant sleight of hand from an author at the top of her game.
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The mugging of a retired schoolteacher on a London street has unexpected repercussions for her friends and neighbors when it inadvertently reveals an illicit love affair, leads to a business partnership, and helps an immigrant to reinvent his life.

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