Monday, 16 September 2013

How It All Began by Penelope Lively

The gem that lies at the heart of Penelope Lively’s novel, How It All Began, is her characters. Using a simple plot device to connect them, in this case the domino effect of one small incident, Lively weaves in drama and tension making this story a compelling read.

It all starts when Charlotte, an elderly widow, is mugged – a violent incident that leaves her with a broken hip and unable to look after herself. Her daughter, Rose, brings her home and nurses her, temporarily leaving her job as personal assistant to Henry, a retired academic. Snobbish and vain, Henry requires the attentions of his niece, Marion, who has to put on hold her work as an interior designer to attend a conference with Henry where he is giving a talk.

These initial disruptions create further ripples in the lives of other characters, too. Charlotte teaches English to recent immigrants, including Anton, who she continues to tutor at Rose’s home. Rose meets Anton and helps him shop for a gift for his mother.

These may seem to be small events, but given the nature of the various characters, they create plenty of upheaval. The novel becomes a bit like a chemistry experiment: what happens when this character and that character are combined in this situation? Add Lively’s intelligent writing, by turns ironic and at others sympathetic, and you have a perfect little novel. If you haven’t read Lively before, you have much to look forward to.

Catalogue link: How It All Began

About the Author

Penelope Lively's website:

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