Sunday, March 18, 2012

How it All Began

Lively, Penelope. How it All Began. NY:Viking, 2012.

Lively's latest novel picks up a theme explored in one of her recent novels, Consequences--that is, the importance of a random event or action to shape the future course of multiple lives. The novel opens with Charlotte, an older but still very active woman, coming to consciousness after having been mugged and having her purse stolen. Because of her injuries she must move in with her married daughter, who in turn must cancel her plans to accompany her employer on a speaking engagement. Because of her cancellation, her employer asks his niece to accompany him. The niece sends a text to the married man she is having a casual affair with which is seen by his wife. The niece, in addition, neglects to bring tickets for her uncle's trip or the manuscript from which he plans to speak leading to his deep humiliation. Not all of the fall out from Charlotte's accident is negative but it is disruptive and life changing.

This novel, while exploring a weighty idea is also very funny. The niece's married man is a selfish, hapless man who is in the habit of having his cake and eating it too. The uncle/employer is a well known academic whose glory days are behind him. He is hopelessly out of touch with current scholarship but blithely carries on writing his memoirs and enjoying the self-serving attentions of a young disciple.  Lively also takes a stab at investment bankers and their easy way with other people's money.  Some of the characters move on, and some consider moving on but step back.

The narrator steps into the story as the novel concludes to consider the far reaching effects of the random actions of Charlotte's mugger, concluding simply that no man is an island.

If you haven't read any Penelope Lively novels, you might consider picking up Cleopatra's Sister, City of the Mind, and, most especially, Passing On.

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