How It All Began
By Penelope Lively
(Viking Adult, Hardcover, 9780670023448, 240pp.)
Publication Date: January 5, 2012
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A vibrant new novel from Penelope Lively-a 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.
Penelope Lively grew up in Egypt but settled in England after the war and took a degree in history at St Anne's College, Oxford. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and a member of PEN and the Society of Authors. She was married to the late Professor Jack Lively, has a daughter, a son and four grandchildren, and lives in Oxfordshire and London.
Penelope Lively is the author of many prize-winning novels and short story collections for both adults and children. She has twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize; once in 1977 for her first novel, The Road to Lichfield, and again in 1984 for According to Mark. She later won the 1987 Booker Prize for her highly acclaimed novel Moon Tiger. Her novels include Passing On, shortlisted for the 1989 Sunday Express Book of the Year Award, City of the Mind, Cleopatra's Sister and Heat Wave.
Penelope Lively has also written radio and television scripts and has acted as presenter for a BBC Radio 4 program on children's literature. She is a popular writer for children and has won both the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Award.
- How It All Began is a book about reading and writing. What does reading give to Lively’s more literate characters? What does the absence of reading deny to the others?
“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.”
“Lives intersect in unexpected and comical ways in this breezy, engrossing novel.”
“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.”
-The Seattle Times