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Showing 1-10 of 177 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 240 reviews
on February 6, 2012
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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on January 16, 2012
I have never read anything by Penelope Lively before and now I know what a shame that is and what I have been missing. How It All Began is a wonderful novel full of terrific characters and humor and wisdom. I loved how an accident (mugging) becomes an example of the ripple effect--and how true it is, at least for these characters, that chance determines so much of life. Though the book deals with some pretty heavy issues--everything from aging to adultery to the financial crisis/downturn to love--they are handled with a light touch and the humor is simply wonderful.

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.
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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.

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.
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Somewhere in the Amazon, a butterfly flaps its wings and provokes a tornado in Texas. So goes the chaos theory - a proposition that apparently random phenomena have underlying order. It is the premise of Penelope Lively's thoroughly engaging and delightful new book, where at least seven lives are derailed one day in mid-April.

It all begins when Charlotte Rainsford - a 76-year-old woman - is accosted by an unknown teenage thief on the streets of London and breaks her hip. That one random event gives way to a slew of other related events: Charlotte must recuperate at the home of her daughter and son-in-law, Rose and Gerry. Bored out of her mind, she takes on an adult student - Anton, a European immigrant who is learning the English language - who fascinates Rose in a way that hasn't happened in years.

And, since Rose must tend to her mother, she cannot go to Manchester with her boss, an ancient historian named Henry, who takes his niece Marion instead. It's during that trip that Marion meets a shyster and, at the same time, is forced to start reconsidering her affair with the very-married Jeremy, whose wife Stella finds out about the affair, and... well, the "chaos theory" goes on and on.

None of this is particularly innovative but it's done so exceedingly well and with such aplomb and good humor that the reader cannot help but be carried along. As the historian Henry notes, "Progress is forever skewed by circumstance - the unforeseen event, an untimely death, the unpredicted circumstance, and the course of history would be one of seamless advance." History and life are, the author suggests, subject to interpretation and random fate.

I cannot help but end this review by quoting Ms. Lively's key character, Charlotte, on her love of reading. "She has read not just for distraction, sustenance, to pass the time, but she has read in a state of primal innocence, reading for enlightenment, for instruction, even. She has read to discover what it is to be good or bad; she has read to find out if things are the same for others as they are for her - then, discovering frequently they are not, she has read to find out what it is that other people experience that she is missing." I have read How It All Began for many of these same reasons - and I've been rewarded.
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on December 31, 2013
I loved this witty, tender story because:
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!
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on June 15, 2016
Lively writes with insight to the human condition and with the kind of detail that both informs but also keeps the story moving at a brisk pace. As Lively says, it is the story that we want to know and here she gives us many intertwined and satisfying. Not so many as to confuse or so exotic as to be unrelatable, but characters much like any of us, and that is what keeps us reading.
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on August 23, 2013
This is the story of three families, their loves, injuries, infidelities, disappointments, successes. The elderly professor emeritus of history, Henry, deals with aging and professional anonymity, with the help of his daughter, Marion, and his secretary, Rose. Rose's mother, Charlotte, a retired English teacher and department head at a prestigious girls school, has been mugged, her hip broken, and she stays with Rose and her husband, Gerry, to recuperate. While recuperating, Charlotte tutors Anton, an economic immigrant. Meanwhile Marion has an affair with Jeremy, who is married to Stella. The story doesn't come to life until nearly the middle, but then it engages the reader and maintains interest to the end. It's a short book - only 229 pages - with a great deal of introspection related for each character, which serves to deepen the characterization, although, especially in the first half, it is overly wordy.
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on July 21, 2017
A random mugging and enter a few characters that Lively interconnects with one another. Interesting premise except one character dominates and he's a bore. She's an excellent writer; good at internal dialogue while the person is outwardly saying something else. She has lived long enough to know the human condition. This book is geared to a British audience because there are several expressions I didn't understand. It's not her best novel. I still vote on The Photograph for that. However, stay tuned. I'm reading Moon Tiger which is supposed to be her best.
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VINE VOICEon January 24, 2012
Penelope Lively uses the chaos theory as a template for this story, with a mugging setting into motion events that upset the lives of seemingly random people around London. There are threads connecting them, but their stories spin independently, almost like a series of linked short stories. The British do this so well, creating satisfying novels populated with interesting people. warts and all. These situations are not all very original, their resolutions not all happy, but interspersed within the pages are ruminations on the times, the effects of the advance of time, and life in England in general. There is a particularly lovely passage on memory, memories, and the individual that I have underlined and will return to from time to time. Highly recommended.
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on June 12, 2017
It's interesting to think how one instance, one happenstance, can spin off into so many different turns in life. Every action causes a reaction in our lives and this book is an interesting take on that! I could visualize the characters and their circumstances so vividly. Worth reading!
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