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How It All Began: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Penelope Lively
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (163 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $10.99
You Save: $5.01 (31%)
Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

A vibrant new novel from Penelope Livelya wry, wise story about the surprising ways lives intersect

When Charlotte Rainsford, a retired schoolteacher, is accosted by a petty thief on a London street, the consequences ripple across the lives of acquaintances and strangers alike. A marriage unravels after an illicit love affair is revealed through an errant cell phone message; a posh yet financially strapped interior designer meets a business partner who might prove too good to be true; an old-guard historian tries to recapture his youthful vigor with an ill-conceived idea for a TV miniseries; and a middle-aged central European immigrant learns to speak English and reinvents his life with the assistance of some new friends.

Through a richly conceived and colorful cast of characters, Penelope Lively explores the powerful role of chance in people's lives and deftly illustrates how our paths can be altered irrevocably by someone we will never even meet. Brought to life in her hallmark graceful prose and full of keen insights into human nature, How It All Began is an engaging, contemporary tale that is sure to strike a chord with her legion of loyal fans as well as new readers. A writer of rare wisdom, elegance, and humor, Lively is a consummate storyteller whose gifts are on full display in this masterful work.

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The ruling vision of master British novelist Lively’s latest delectably tart and agile novel 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 as he attempts to launch a BBC documentary to hilarious effect. With Rose out helping her mother, Henry prevails upon his daughter, 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, who deals in architectural salvage (tangible history), to postpone a rendezvous, his wife intercepts the message. Charlotte begins tutoring Anton, a smart and soulful East European, who affirms her ardor for language and story and awakens Rose out of her smothering stoicism. Throughout this brilliantly choreographed and surreptitiously poignant chain-reaction comedy of chance and change, Lively (Family Album, 2009) 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. --Donna Seaman


“An elegant, witty work of fiction, deceptively simple, emotionally and intellectually penetrating, the kind of novel that brings a plot to satisfying closure but whose questions linger long afterward in the reader’s mind.”
(The New York Times Book Review)

“The plot of Penelope Lively’s vital new novel is one big snowball. . . . Writing with her usual poise and cutting cinematically from one character’s story to another’s, Ms. Lively elegantly orchestrates these events while using them as a setup for another series of developments.”
(Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times)

“Moving skillfully between streams-of-consciousness and a wry omniscient voice, Lively investigates her characters’ motives and afterthoughts with precision and tenderness.”
(The New Yorker)

“With grace, wit and wisdom, Man Booker Prize winner Lively has crafted a highly readable tale about fates intersecting amid the chaos of modern life.”

“Lives intersect in unexpected and comical ways in this breezy, engrossing novel.”
(Entertainment Weekly)

“With How It All Began, Lively has provided a golden passport that will sweep you through the border control of other people’s lives.”
(The Washington Post)

“Marvelous . . . a spellbinding surprise . . . Every small twist in the road in this superbly well-plotted novel sheds ever-widening concentric rings of consequences.”
(The Chicago Tribune)

“Another virtuoso performance . . . Lively continues to surprise and illuminate, writing to ever more dazzling effect.”
(The Boston Globe)

“Lively is a consummate storyteller. . . . The characters in this novel are, each and all, well drawn and fully conceived. . . . Everyone in this elegantly told tale is connected by chance and the power of story.”

(The Seattle Times)

Product Details

  • File Size: 418 KB
  • Print Length: 240 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0670023442
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (January 5, 2012)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005OW8GVO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,751 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
61 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From One Who Understands February 6, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It happens that I am about to turn 78, the same age as Charlotte, one of the protagonists in this splendid novel; the author is close to our ages. She writes with great understanding of such age issues as independence, mobility and memory, but more important, she has written a narrative that's alive on every page, touching the problems of every adult character. No violence, no hidden agendas, no one out to "get" another character, but rather this is a novel of inner thoughts and feelings that holds the reader in its spell. I found the writing compelling and beautiful. Six stars, please.
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52 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No Man Is An Island January 6, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Penelope Lively has given us a novel that illustrates how one misdeed can affect many people. She does so, of course, in her own indomitable style.

The author tells us that the plot is inspired by The Chaos Theory:

'Chaos theory studies the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions, an effect which is popularly referred to as the butterfly effect. Small differences in initial conditions (such as those due to rounding errors in numerical computation) yield widely diverging outcomes for chaotic systems, rendering long-term prediction impossible in general.' Wikipedia

Charlotte, a woman of indeterminate age, but probably in her seventies, is mugged. She is thrown to the ground, breaking her hip, and her money is taken. That one incident has an affect on at least seven more people. While recuperating, Charlotte goes to live with her daughter, Rose, and Rose's husband, Gerry. Charlotte finds it difficult to be dependent on others, Rose works as a personal secretary to an elderly Lord, an independent scholar, Lord Henry Peters. He suffers from a fading memory, but his ego has him believing that his words command everyone's attention. Henry's niece, Marion, a bit self centered, is an interior designer. Her work has slowed to almost no work. She has also taken up with a married man, Jeremy. Jeremy is a purveyor of other people's junk, and a man who wants it all. His wife, Stella, is a nervous wreck, and she takes a multitude of medications. They have two daughters, and Stella has a sister, Gill, who would drive anyone to drink. Stella reads a text message one day that changes the course of her life. Back to Charlotte, she is a teacher to immigrants who have difficulty reading English.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful concept, play out of it becomes tedious March 16, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Penelope Lively always has a great concept for her books, often historical, always philosophical. So I find every one of them worth getting. Unfortunately I find that she creates better novels from some of her ideas than from others. This was a book I much looked forward to, and I really like the concept and the start of the book. But about a third of the way in I found myself bored, and so I skipped sections, cheated and read the end. I found myself really disappointed. I thought more would happen to the characters, and one thing would lead to another. But like real life, it became mundane and very ordinary. If you are a Lively fan, do get the book, but I warn you, it's not one of her best.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Thus have various lives collided." January 14, 2012
Once in a while, a work of fiction comes along that is eloquent, satirical, literate, warm, and engaging. Penelope Lively's "How It All Began" is one such novel. The epigraph is about the famous "butterfly effect": One seemingly insignificant event (such as the flapping of a butterfly's wings) can ultimately set off a chain reaction that influences the weather in a distant locale. In Lively's scenario, it all begins in London with the mugging of Charlotte Rainsford by "a fourteen-year-old with behavioral problems." As a result, Charlotte has a broken hip and her daughter, Rose Donovan, insists that it would best for her mother to recuperate at home with Rose and her husband, Gerry. This throws a monkey wrench into Rose's planned excursion to Manchester with her boss, a septuagenarian and historian named Lord Henry Peters. While Rose is busy getting her mother settled, Henry enlists his niece, Marion Clark, an interior designer, to fill in; consequences ensue that will affect Marion's life, as well. In fact, it is safe to say that few people emerge unchanged at the end of this tale.

Rarely has an author assembled such an absorbing cast. Henry Peters is "newly retired, brisk and self-important." Although he was once a force to be reckoned with in academia, his opinions are no longer sought after. In his declining years, he is self-absorbed, moody, and resentful of the infirmities of old age, which he considers "an insult" and "a slap in the face." Seventy-six year old Charlotte, who treasures her independence, appreciates Rose's attentiveness and concern. However, Charlotte is restless, sometimes in excruciating pain, and impatient to resume her normal routines. She also dislikes being "on the edge of things now, clinging on to life's outer rim.
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46 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars PERFECT January 10, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
A perfect novel, rare as hen's teeth these days. Characters one cares about, true understanding of both contemporary and universal time. Life is arbitrary, but life requires action. As a Penelope Lively fan, I think this is her best. Think of that, unlike her characters, age has not stunted her growth. Instead, she has really hit her stride! I find this inspiring, both as a reader and as a person, who is a character in my own life.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
Published 8 days ago by susan m cramer
4.0 out of 5 stars This book is a delightful read. It is humorous ...
This book is a delightful read. It is humorous in many ways as it describes the vagaries of aging, finding oneself involved in the characters dilemmas while enjoying the British... Read more
Published 15 days ago by C Silver
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful Light Insightful Novel
A delightful book based on the premise of the butterfly effect in English life, using precise language, making commentary about human character, relationships, aging, the... Read more
Published 20 days ago by Inquiring
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
This captivating story makes one want to stop the inevitable. Penelope Lively is a genius.
Published 22 days ago by Barbara Mischke
4.0 out of 5 stars I thought it was a pretty good story
I read this for book club. I thought it was a pretty good story. Not great but a good read.
Published 1 month ago by Weaver
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
well written,but I didn't care about the characters except for Anton
Published 1 month ago by Ellen Messing
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly entertaining.
I happened across a copy, remaindered, in the local bookstore, and recognized the author's name (I'd heard her interviewed on PBS last spring). Good reading from beginning to end. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Kenneth Umbach
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting!
It was entertaining but required very little thought. It was predictable. The ending was well done but it was clear what would happen to everyone.
Published 1 month ago by grammy58
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I have read in years
The best book I have read in years. The marvelous protagonist -- an old woman -- is mugged and injured, and therefore forced to move in with her daughter for a time. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Over-reader EKH
4.0 out of 5 stars Delightful read.
Delightful read.
Published 1 month ago by Patricia L. Saporito
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