- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (November 27, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0143122649
- ISBN-13: 978-0143122647
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 270 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #84,181 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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How It All Began: A Novel Paperback – November 27, 2012
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“Here, one of our most talented writers has written 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
“In this mischievous novel, Lively traces the genealogy of randomness that messes up the lives of strangers. . . . 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
“How It All Began is another virtuoso performance. I found it even more delightful a second time through, appreciating once more the elegance of Lively’s design, the grace notes of thematic underpinning shining through. . . . In her own late 70s now, with a legion of regular readers and newcomers with every book, Lively continues to surprise and illuminate, writing to ever more dazzling effect.”
—The Boston Globe
“The ever-productive, ever-graceful Penelope Lively returns to several pet themes—memory, history and the powerful role of happenstance in reshaping lives—with a fresh and charming novel. . . . She has provided a golden passport that will sweep you through the border control of other people’s lives.”
—The Washington Post
“Lively’s novel is skillfully constructed, with a thoroughly engaging plot. It also has much to say about the role of chance in human affairs, the aging process and the importance of memories.”
“Lively is a consummate storyteller who once again illuminates the ways that the vagaries of chance bring powerful alteration to the ordinary plans of ordinary people. . . . 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
“Startling and soothing, uncommonly paced, this is a book to treasure. . . . To a person, each character is wholly developed, and the trajectory of all the chaotically intersecting lives moves forward. Ms. Lively attends to these with great care, and with every detail and keenly observed moment, the reader accrues more information about where it all leads. There are consequences to missteps and random acts. . . . Three cheers for this gorgeous writing.”
—The Washington Times
“In this densely patterned novel . . . Lively observes how the ‘strange notional movements’ of world economies can ‘wreck individual lives.’ This novel shows that if minor events wreak major effects, so can grand systems shape our own small ends—and our beginnings, too.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Wonderful . . . British treasure Penelope Lively examines the effects of a seemingly random crime on a group of London acquaintances and strangers.”
“Lives intersect in unexpected and comical ways in this breezy, engrossing novel. . . . Lively infuses her motley cast of characters with a blend of pathos and sharp satire, and though How It All Began is light fare, this deftly paced novel remains compulsively readable throughout.”
“This delightful, absorbing novel relies on a sophisticated and skillfully realized structure to introduce and then follow its endearingly ordinary characters. . . . The interdependency of the characters’ lives, which they remain largely unaware of, builds intriguing momentum, and the pace quickens as the novel develops. Throughout, prolific Booker Prize–winning author Lively illustrates her knack for charming familiarity and just the right dash of surprise.”
“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. . . . Throughout this brilliantly choreographed and surreptitiously 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.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“Explores the far-reaching effect of happenstance, as individual circumstances shift, lives change, and the known is perceived in an altogether new light. . . . Lively delivers her story about these intertwined lives with faultless dexterity, sly humor, keen insight, and deft economy . . . A feel-good masterpiece that will delight faithful fans as well as those new to the work of this consummate storyteller.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
“More stylish than many writers half her age . . . Lively knows a thing of two about storytelling. Her veteran understanding of the function of narrative in our lives is impressive but lightly worn. . . . Her candour is refreshing, and reminds us that you don’t have to lie to yourself to live life finely until the very end.”
—The Times (London)
“Lively remains a sublime storyteller. . . . She has us riveted with curiosity as to what will happen next, yet also keeps us consistently aware of the nature of the illusion.”
About the Author
Penelope Lively was born and raised in Egypt, before moving to England for boarding school and later reading Modern History at St Anne's College, Oxford. Lively is the author of many children's books and adult novels, including Family Album, The Photograph, and Moon Tiger, which won the Man Booker Prize. She was awarded an OBE in 1989 and a CBE in 2001 and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. In recognition of her contributions to British literature, she was elevated to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2012.
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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.
My Thoughts: From the very first page of How It All Began: A Novel, we are caught up in a series of events, beginning with the mugging of Charlotte Rainsford, and rippling forward to people she knows…and then to total strangers.
How we can all be connected by an event was a fascinating exploration. I liked how the author showed us the various characters as they meandered down the pathways that were affected by this one seemingly irrelevant moment in one woman’s life.
There was Rose, Charlotte’s daughter, who takes her in after the mugging and whose life is changed.
Another random connection occurs when Rose’s boss Henry asks his niece Marion to attend a luncheon with him when Rose cannot. A text Marion sends to Jeremy, a married lover, upends his marriage.
Numerous vignettes that spotlight how these several lives are changed kept my interest up, and while the story was not one I loved, I definitely enjoyed it. 4 stars.
1. I believe its central tenet -- everything and everyone is connected and the consequences of our most trivial actions echo across space and time.
2. I care about all the characters -- even Jeremy, the perennial optimist, opportunist, and infant.
3. Charlotte -- a lady of a certain age (mine) -- has to deal with the vicissitudes that come with advancing -- um -- maturity: loss of independence, role reversals; vulnerability.
4. Charlotte volunteers as a tutor in an adult literacy program, as do I.
5.Henry reminds me of some aging academics I know who struggle to remain relevant, when clearly their glory days are in the rearview mirror.
6. Rose and Anton's story -- which could have been so treacley -- instead ends as it should, with an adult recognition of reality. I want to hug them!
This a well-written book that has so much to recommend it! What I loved most was the optimism and the hope that shine through. I also loved that the book was not Americanized to the point that it could have been writen by anybody.
How It All Began is a book I want to tell all my friends to read. I think it would be an excellent choice for a book club, as there are many issues in the book to talk about. This was my first Lively book, but it will not be my last. I loved this book--can you tell? I highly recommend it.
I do not think book reviews should summarize plots, so allow me just to say that Lively's writing is always wonderful, and in this book, it is at its best. The novel is both literary and accessible, the plot clips along at a satisfactory rate and the characters are beautifully developed. Enough said!