How It All Began by Penelope Lively Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

How It All BeganHow It All Began by Penelope Lively; Penguin Books, 2012.  229 pages; $16.00 (paperback); reading level:  adult.

It all began when 77-year-old Charlotte Rainsford was mugged; which meant she had to move into her daughter Rose’s house, where she tutored Anton, her adult literacy student, while her broken hip mended; which meant Rose noticed Anton’s “amazing eyes” and couldn’t accompany Henry, the retired professor she worked for, to an event in Manchester; which meant Henry’s niece, Marion had to go to Manchester in Rose’s stead; which meant Marion had to text her lover, Jeremy, and cancel a proposed tryst; which meant Jeremy’s wife, Stella (who discovered the text), began divorce proceedings; which meant…well, you get the picture. The plot is a series of random events setting one another into motion like a Rube Goldberg machine. In counterpoint to this “Butterfly Effect” view of life is another theme: the very un-random, “clever contrivance” of the stories we read in books – “not like our life,” as Anton the English student observes. If there ever was a seasoned fashioner of story, it’s the prolific Dame Lively, who ever so quietly shapes these Butterfly Effect episodes into a gently-flowing tale with a beginning, a middle, and (despite the author’s declaration to the contrary) a neat, satisfying end. Along the way, we’re treated to Lively’s deep insights into the human condition through her characters’ expectations (sometimes realized, sometimes not), their struggles with the passing of time, and their efforts to respond to the things life throws at them. We, all of us, get “swerved” by a chain of events we can’t even guess the beginning of. But as Anton puts it, “there are always more than one way to look at what happen.”  It is all illuminating, satisfying and thought provoking…everything a really good book should be.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

Connie Nordhielm WooldridgeBiography | View

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