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How It All Began: A Novel Hardcover – January 5, 2012
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*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.” — People
“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.”
Top customer reviews
Charlotte Rainsford, a 70ish widow, is mugged. After her initial hospitalization, she becomes a "guest" of her daughter, Rose and son-in-law Gerry who will provide her assisted care as she recovers. Her recovery is slow moving, reminding her that, at her age, she has lost her ambulatory independence and involvement in everyday activities. She is an educated woman who is intuitive but smart enough not to blurt out her thoughts. Her thoughts begin to center on Rose, who works for "his Lordship," a self-centered, indulgent academic who is unmarried and rather asexual.
This historian has his niece, Marion, an interior designer, accompany him to a lecture trip (Rose is tending to Charlotte) where she meets Mr. Harrington who will help her expand her faltering business with rich commissions. Marion is having an affair with a married man, Jeremy, a selfish lout who wants it all. A text message from Marion derails many lives and ultimately impacts previous impulses. Meanwhile, Charlotte invites Anton, a foreigner into Rose's home, to teach him to read English, which sparks risky emotions in Rose. And so it goes.
Lively addresses the invasion of time through 76-year-old Henry and housebound Charlotte. The reality of the initial mugging undulates through the daily lives and ambitions of her characters. The theme, itself, is not innovative, but the author's presentation, which seems so effortlessly, captures our fears of mortality and the drawbacks of our dreams. 4.5 stars