How It All Began: A Novel

( 31 )

Overview

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 ...

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How It All Began: A Novel

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Overview

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

The New York Times Book Review
 
“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 Yorker
 
“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 Boston Globe
 
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 Seattle Times
 
“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.”
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
 
“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.”
The Washington 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.”
San Francisco Chronicle
 
“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.”
Marie Claire
 
“Wonderful . . . British treasure Penelope Lively examines the effects of a seemingly random crime on a group of London acquaintances and strangers.”
Entertainment Weekly
 
“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.”
The Washington Post
 
“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 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.”
Publishers Weekly
Charlotte, who is in her 70s, is mugged, leaving her injured and without her handbag. This delightful, absorbing novel relies on a sophisticated and skillfully realized structure to introduce and then follow its endearingly ordinary characters. Though Charlotte’s incident proves to be the first domino to fall, she herself recedes into the background as her daughter, her middle-aged ESL student, her boss, and her boss’s niece come to the fore, going about the business of their daily lives and loves, all on a somewhat different path than they would have, had not Charlotte broken her hip. 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 (for Moon Tiger) illustrates her knack for charming familiarity and just the right dash of surprise. (Jan.)
People
 
“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.”
Michiko Kakutani
 
“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.”
The Chicago Tribune
 
“Marvelous . . . a spellbinding surprise . . . Every small twist in the road in this superbly well-plotted novel sheds ever-widening concentric rings of consequences.”
People
 
“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.”
Library Journal
A chance encounter between a retired schoolteacher and a petty thief sets off an unexpected chain of events. A marriage is undone by a misdirected cell phone call revealing an affair, for instance, while an old-timey historian gets an idea for a snappy miniseries. The moral—life always has other plans for us—should be beautifully conveyed by Man Booker Award winner Lively. Especially nice for book groups.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143122647
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 11/27/2012
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 141,337
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Penelope Lively

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.

Good To Know

In her interview with Barnes & Noble.com, Lively shared some fun facts about herself:

"I came late to writing -- I was in my late 30s before I wrote anything. The years before that had been busy with small children, and I seem to have fallen into writing almost by accident. Since then, I have never stopped -- books for children to begin with, then a period writing for both adults and children -- short stories also -- then for adults only when the children's books, sadly, left me."

"It has been a busy 30 years, but because writing is a solitary activity and I like the company of others, I have also always had other involvements -- with writers' organizations such as Britain's Society of Authors, with PEN, with the Royal Society of Literature, and, for six years, as a member of the Board of the British Library (the opposite number of the Library of Congress) which I regarded as a great privilege -- what could be more important than the national archive?"

"I have always been an avid user of libraries; like any writer, much of my inspiration comes from life as it is lived -- what you see and hear and experience, but my novels have sprung from some abiding interest -- the operation of memory, the effects of choice and contingency, the conflicting nature of evidence -- and these concerns are fueled by reading: serendipitous and eclectic reading."

"I am first and foremost a reader myself. I don't think I could write if I wasn't constantly reading. I both wind and unwind by reading -- stimulus and relaxation both. I used to love tramping the landscape, and gardening, but arthritis rules out both of those, so I do both vicariously through books. I live in the city now, but feel out of place -- I have always before lived most of the time in the country: I miss wide skies, weather, seasons."

"Never mind, there are compensations, and London is a very different place from the pinched and bomb-shattered place to which I came as a schoolgirl in 1945 -- now it is multicultural, polyglot, vibrant, unpredictable, in a state of constant change but with that bedrock of permanence that an old place always has. I like to escape from time to time -- mainly to West Somerset, where we have a family cottage and I can admire my daughter's garden -- she has the gardening gene in a big way and is far more skilled than I ever was -- bird-watch, walk a bit, talk to people I've known for decades, and see the night sky crackling with the stars that the city blots out."

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    1. Hometown:
      London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 17, 1933
    2. Place of Birth:
      Cairo, Egypt
    1. Education:
      Honors Degree in Modern History, University of Oxford, England, 1955

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 31 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(8)

4 Star

(13)

3 Star

(5)

2 Star

(2)

1 Star

(3)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 31 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2012

    The Butterfly Effect

    I thoroughly enjoyed this sweet book, as I have everything else Penelope Lively has written. This is not the first time she has explored the relationships between coincidence and personal history. I'm glad she sort of wrapped things up at the end, although I wonder how many other readers besides me were waiting for a first meeting between Charlotte and Henry. --catwak

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 5, 2012

    A good solid read

    A fair amount of life experiences are necessary for full enjoyment of this well written novel.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 19, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    This book had a very British flair and style of writing. I have

    This book had a very British flair and style of writing. I have decided
    that I am not a fan of this style. The premise of the story is great but
    the story moves rather slowly jumping from character to character. None
    of the characters are memorable and there is nothing deep, provocative,
    or profound about this story. If you have to choose between this and
    something else, choose the other book!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 1, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Highly Recommended

    A deft, nuanced story about circumstance, memory, relationships, aging.Highly recommended.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 1, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Oh, I dearly loved this book about an event which spawned a se



    Oh, I dearly loved this book about an event which spawned a series of follow-on events, some of which could be termed momentous, in the context of a life. The story was funny and true and ridiculous and painful and all those things that life can be. It was comforting to hear about folks whose lives had hit a major speed bump but who managed, by shuffling the deck, to usher in a new chapter in their lives, one that they liked even better. But it is lightly told, and not so painful for us, safely behind our reading glasses, sipping tea and considering just how awful divorce could be…for the characters of course.

    I was also struck by parallels between the theme in this book by Lively and Kate Atkinson’s new offering Life After Life . It is almost as though the grande Dames of British Literature were given a writing assignment to mull over the possibility that Hitler had never been born or had died in early life, before the tragedy of World War II. The assignment might have specified that they didn’t have to focus on the 1940’s, they just had to mention Hitler and make their story relevant to a new reality. Consider Lively’s contribution, that she places in the mouth of Henry, retired University professor and a man sure of his talent to make history interesting and relevant:
    I myself have a soft spot for what is known as the Cleopatra’s nose theory of history—the proposal that had the nose of Cleopatra been an inch longer the fortunes of Rome would have been different. A reductio ad absurdam, perhaps, but a reference to random causality that makes a lot of sense when we think about the erratic sequence of events that we call history. And we find that we home in on the catalysts—the intervention of those seminal figures who will direct events. Caesar himself. Charlemagne. Napoleon. Hitler. If this man or that—no, this person or that—had not existed, how differently could things have turned out? Focus upon a smaller canvas—England in the eighteenth century, of, indeed, any other century—and we find again that it is personalities that direct events, the human hand that steers the course of time…A decision is made in one place, and far away a thousand will die.”
    Then, consider Kate Atkinson’s contemplation of this question, whom she gives to Ursula, her protagonist :
    “Don’t you wonder sometimes, “ Ursula said. “If just one small thing had been changed, in the past, I mean. If Hitler had died at birth, or if someone had kidnapped him as a baby and brought him up in—I don’t know, say a Quaker household—surely things would be different.”

    And it is a great theme to be going along with: eliminating those pesky outsized actors from our history. After all, isn’t life complicated enough with just our own mistakes to manage?

    In any case, the thing that really caught my attention in this book, and that I loved above even the story (something which Lively spends some time considering—how a story can draw us in) is the discussion an older woman, a retired teacher of literature as it happens, has with a younger economic migrant to whom she is teaching the fundamentals of reading. They speak of language, words, and the passion the younger man has for stories. He’d had trouble learning English, both spoken and written, but he was passionate about stories. So she teaches him, rather than the language of commerce, the language of poetry. She gave him stories, and his passion for stories developed into a passion for words, which he collected assiduously and used ardently. He loved, and was loved though words. It was delightful.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 11, 2012

    A thought-provoking, British read

    I enjoy thinking about the cause and effect of things and how if one bad event had not happened in my life, I would not have gotten to experience all the good that resulted from it. This book is an interesting and cerebral journey down the various "effect" paths that were all "caused" by a woman being mugged. It is not very fast paced and it doesn't quite wrap the ending up with a bow, so if that bothers you, you may want to skip this one. I found it very enjoyable and very realistic. I love me some good, British fiction!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 29, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    The book is enjoyable. It starts with the premise that one act c

    The book is enjoyable. It starts with the premise that one act can impact many others. And so it does, to our endearment. The author tells the tale smoothly and with humor, yet it does lag for a brief spell. Perhaps there are too many characters. Mark, for one, could easily have been dispensed with. Or the relationship between him and the Lord could have taken the course it seemed bound to follow- the bedroom. But I am not an author, so I can make suggestions like that without having to worry about the consequences.
    I did like the book, and one can argue whether I have a fair amount of life experiences!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 22, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    How It All Began by Penelope is a thought provoking fictional ac

    How It All Began by Penelope is a thought provoking fictional account of how the

    lives of multiple people can be impacted by a random accident. It reminds me of widening ripples after a pebble has been thrown in a pond.



    Charlotte Rainsford is walking down a street in London, when she is mugged by a teenager. She falls and breaks her hip, and her life is understandably altered due to her injury. She cannot live alone while her hip is mending and mobility is severely limited. The reader also finds that the mugging incident triggers actions that lead to a marriage on the brink of divorce, the possible bankruptcy of an interior decorator’s business, the less than stellar performance at a lecture of a well-known historian, and how an immigrant's attempt to improve his life in the UK impacts the course of a twenty year marriage.



    My Thoughts



    "How It All Began" is the perfect book to read while curled up in your favorite chair with an afghan and a hot chocolate. The reader will want to time with this book to allow full immersion in the story. The characters are ordinary people living ordinary lives. A random incident changes all their lives and the reader is compelled to keep reading to find out how the story unfolds. Will the couple on the brink of divorce end or mend their marriage? Will the interior decorator be able to save her business or will she have to change career direction? Will the historian be able to restore his reputation in the academic world or will he fade into obscurity with a blemish on his record? Penelope Lively answers these questions in such a way that reader has additional questions. Ms. Lively leaves her readers wanting more, an excellent achievement for any writer.



    By Celeste Thomas

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 28, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Although simple and uncomplicated, a sweet little English read.

    Although simple and uncomplicated, a sweet little English read. Good story. Great beach read!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 7, 2013

    The first Penelope Lively book I've read. It was a book group c

    The first Penelope Lively book I've read. It was a book group choice but one that I thoroughtly enjoyed.

    It has the gentle quality that I associate with many of the boks written about life in England.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2012

    Great Book!

    I really enjoyed this book.

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