How It All Began
Penelope Lively
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Buy *How It All Began* by Penelope Lively online

How It All Began
Penelope Lively
240 pages
January 2012
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In How It All Began, Lively builds an unusual synchronicity, her characters exposed by burdens of guilt and remorse as each hurtles though London in a giant whirlygig of chaos and fate. Amid infidelity and blame, a twenty-year marriage is laid bare to the promises of a new love while the world’s economic downturn takes its terrible toll.

The last place that elderly Charlotte Rainsford thought she’d be staying is at her daughter Rose’s house after being accosted on the street. With a broken hip and a sudden loss of confidence in her own mobility, Charlotte is thrust into an unaccustomed proximity. Frustrated and restless, she’s relegated to the spare bedroom while her clothes and other necessities are brought from home.

Vowing to overcome her sudden derailment, Charlotte puts aside petty resentments and begins tutoring Anton in English. An Eastern European immigrant who grows endlessly fascinated with children’s books, Anton unexpectedly finds himself drawn to lovely Rose in spite of her settled marriage to Gerry.

Like a chess player thinking ahead several moves, Lively assiduously sets forth a series of spontaneous set-pieces. Rose’s employer--newly-retired, brisk, self-important Henry-- is invited to attend a conference in Manchester. Rose has learned to tread carefully with his Lordship, a stuffy academic with a house in Lansdale Gardens, “a grandish part of London.”

After Rose is derailed by her mother’s injuries, Henry’s niece, interior designer Marion, is given the task of attending the conference. On the morning of the trip, Marion is slightly late and distracted. Her lover, Jeremy, has called, telling her of his wife, Stella’s rampages, hysterical outbursts, and tearful phone calls to her sister, renewing demands for his departure.

Marion and Jeremy have problems already over and above the pressures of their clandestine love affair. Marion worries over her sharp fall in client numbers, and Jeremy is having difficulties borrowing from the bank to fund his recent business expansion. Between Marion’s distracted wariness and Jeremy’s desperation with Stella, we see the bourgeoning love between Rose and Anton and Charlotte’s fears that she’s sliding into old age and into "a state of perpetual indifference."

Charlotte remains the catalyst, all of the stories capriciously triggered because something unforeseen happened to her on the street one day. Like all ambitious literary provocateurs, Lively weaves her tale around the notion that people live on edge of things, clinging to life’s outer rim. In her colorful London setting, the author’s series of wobbly connections are precariously linked by overdrafts, divorce, and crazy wives.

The author, never trite, moves between each baffled character. Their stories spin away from one another, their decisions twisted by pragmatism into a series of circumstances no one could ever have envisioned as the ripple effects of chaos theory go on and on.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2012

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