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How It All Began

3.49  ·  Rating Details ·  5,804 Ratings  ·  1,058 Reviews

How It All Began is the wonderful new novel from Booker Prize winner Penelope Lively

When . . . Charlotte is mugged and breaks her hip, her daughter Rose cannot accompany her employer Lord Peters to Manchester, which means his niece Marion has to go instead, which means she sends a text to her lover which is intercepted by his wife, which is . . . just the beginning in the

Kindle Edition, 239 pages
Published (first published January 1st 2011)
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Community Reviews

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Feb 01, 2017 Hugh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit, read-2017
Another charming and erudite novel from Penelope Lively, whose books are always a pleasure to read.

This one was conceived as an illustration of the butterfly effect. Charlotte, an old widow, is mugged and falls, breaking her hip. This sets in chain a series of events that demonstrate the interconnected nature of modern lives and the way lives are derailed by random events.

This feels like a companion piece to her book Making it Up, in which she imagined alternative versions of her own life that
Diane Barnes
Jun 18, 2017 Diane Barnes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book about how an event, in this case a mugging of an elderly lady, can have reverberating affects on so many other people. A light read on the surface, but touching on some serious subjects of life, aging, and adultery; throw in some of Penelope Lively's humor and you get a delightful book.

Charlotte, the mugged 77 year old was my favorite character. A retired English teacher, she was forced to go stay with her middle aged daughter because of a broken hip. Her remarks on reading and
B the BookAddict
Sep 25, 2013 B the BookAddict rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Shane, Marguerite
Shelves: fiction
In How it All Began, Penelope Lively proposes the butterfly effect in the small lives of ordinary people. When an elderly mother is mugged, her daughter cannot accompany her boss to an appointment. This mugging, this random event precipitates a series of life-altering events: an impending divorce, a new business affiliation, a budding romance, an out of control overdraft, a separation, a new business, an embarrassment and a controversial scholarly article. Penelope Lively is at her scintillating ...more
Mar 25, 2013 Trish rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, british, funny
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 ...more
Deborah Markus
I went ahead and marked this five stars for "amazing," because it's rare that a contemporary novel is quotable. The main character is an educated British woman in her seventies, recovering from a mugging. First sentence:

The pavement rises up and hits her.

Terrific, right? Here's a bit from when she's ruminating on being in constant pain from the resultant broken hip:

Ah, old age. The twilight years -- that delicate phrase. Twilight my foot -- roaring dawn of a new life, more like, the one you di
Dec 30, 2011 Lisa rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: unfinished
This is how it all began:

While the premise of this book --the butterfly effect -- is intriguing, the execution was a real turn off. Incomplete sentences and a very British style (and I love England!!) kept me from getting into it. Take the first page:

"...A face is alongside hers. Woman. Nice woman." Or another sentence a few pages later: "So. Just what one didn't want. Being a burden and all that. What one had hoped to avoid." Ugh!

Sentences are filled with ellipses and narrations are changed ab
Feb 17, 2012 Nancy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
How It All Began kept me engaged enough to keep reading, but I was not always enthralled. An annoyance was the author's need to tell me the point of the book, which is how relatively small, random events can cast a wide circle of consequences. I might not have minded if she'd told me once. She seemed, however, to think I might be slow, so she repeated the point several times to be sure I got it. Toward the end of the book, she began to lecture about how we like stories to have decisive endings, ...more
Friederike Knabe
Jul 03, 2012 Friederike Knabe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uk-lit
"Old age is not for wimps"

Opening this Penelope Lively book I was from the start taken by the character of Charlotte and a feeling of familiarity and appreciation didn't leave for the rest of the novel. Set primarily in London, the scenario and the people felt to me like I could have met them and the mugging... well, I have had that experience too. Charlotte, a very independent-minded senior with her wits and sense of humour about her, endears herself immediately to the reader. The day-time mugg
Laurie Larson-Doornbos

Ever since I turned the last page of Penelope Lively's Booker Prize winning novel Moon Tiger nearly 25 years ago, I was hooked. Her peek inside modern British culture was a look at a world that probably no longer exists. Lively's characters are complex--especially her women--and drive the story; I've often envisioned the conversations we'd share. And so The Road to Lichtfield, The Photograph, and Moon Tiger remain some of my favorite reading memories. The author is now eighty and I'd thought she
Kim Fay
Oct 26, 2012 Kim Fay rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have been a devoted Penelope Lively fan ever since I read "Moon Tiger" back in the early 1990s. In fact, I've reread that novel a few times since, and it holds up every time. I think it's because there is such authority in her writing. Not arrogance ... Lively writes from a place of genuine understanding of human nature. Better yet, she doesn't take herself too seriously. Her brilliance is in her ability with nuance, a talent that never fails to impress me. In this novel, Charlotte Rainsford i ...more
Jun 03, 2017 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: softfruit, 2017
Penelope Lively is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Her book are smart but readable, insightful and entertaining. This one shows the reader the ripple effects of one random incident. But it's also contains a wonderful homage to books and reading when Charlotte misses her library at home and struggles to find something to read that fits her mental state. Lively's characters are not all likable but I recognize them and felt their struggles and enjoyed their foibles.
Jan 14, 2012 Kay rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
At age 77, Charlotte has retired from a career as the sort of teacher who changes students' lives. Though widowed, she volunteers to teach adult literacy and is fiercely independent right up to the minute that a mugger throws her to the pavement, breaking her hip. Forced to live with her daughter and son-in-law while recuperating, she agrees to have one of her adult students come to the house for tutoring. This sets the plot in motion, affecting the lives of many people around her.

I've always en
Feb 27, 2017 Jill rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I like the concept of the book, and I was hopeful throughout the first half. The second half fell apart for me though. Anton and Ruth's conversations were hard to get through, and I lost interest. I did add the second star for the description of Anton's eyes - "the forest eyes. the lakes. the castles. that elsewhere."
Feb 27, 2012 Felice rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How It All Began is Penelope Lively’s marvelous new book about the Chaos Theory or if it’s more understandable you (And me too!) could use the science behind If You Give A Mouse A Cookie as your template. No she hasn’t become James Gleick on us. How It All Began is a novel, a fabulous novel. The title is the kind that tells you the whole story and none of the story at the same time I always like that.

Lively’s chaos starts with Charlotte Rainsford’s mugging. When Charlotte gets mugged her hip is
Apr 19, 2012 Jill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 gi
Jan 29, 2012 Bill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Penelope Lively does a better job than any other author I’ve ever read at conveying the obvious rationality of her characters'perspectives and inner lives while simultaneously, and respectfully, showing how irrational they are (in the light of outward events or other characters’ views). And she does that for dozens of characters in her latest novel “How It All Began.” This book is an excellent read just for entering and sharing peoples’ simple and normal lives. At the same time, those lives enco ...more
Dec 22, 2012 Carol rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
3.5 for me - A book group book, we found this one perfect for December. Though not all light and fluffy, it was just enough an easy read and nice story not to depress us in the holiday season.

Myself, I really loved the opening pages when Charlotte, age 77, the main character, really finds life coming from the ground up to smack her in the face. From here, it's sort of a serendipitous story where life offers surprises, the cause and effect (or is that affect, I hate this word!) that can change th
Seventy-six year old Charlotte is mugged, resulting in a broken hip. This book concerns the rippling impact of that event. Her daughter Rose insists that Charlotte must stay with her and her husband Gerry. On the day Charlotte is discharged from the hospital, Rose is unable to accompany her employer - Lord Henry - to Manchester, so Henry's niece Marian goes with him, which results in drastic changes in the lives of Marian, her lover Jeremy and Jeremy's wife Stella. Since Charlotte's ability to m ...more
Jan 10, 2012 Nicholas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Three great things about Penelope Lively's How It All Began: (1) It's very funny. (2) One always has the sense that she as the writer is completely in control of her characters and the plot (and I just read a couple books where I was not totally convinced of this). (3) And it's the perfect answer to that silly platitude: "Everything happens for a reason." This novel explores the interconnectedness of people's lives and all the things that happen to them -- not "for a reason," but because of chan ...more
Feb 16, 2012 Jules rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was a book I read as a book club book. If it hadn't been for that I would never have finished it. It was a slow book in which nothing happened. It was almost as if Lively's publishers wanted a book from her, she struggled & upon completion added this concept of the "butterflys wing" effect in an attempt to make it a full book. I loved the concept & the book should've made full use of that idea. Instead it laboured along, occasionally bringing the concept back to the readers mind wit ...more
May 30, 2017 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uk-reads, 2017-reads
The effects of how one incident can ripple into the lives of a handful of others. Brilliant!
May 28, 2017 Jana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read one Penelope Lively (Moon Tiger) and then proceeded to buy half a dozen more to read. Time to get cracking!

UPDATE: Interesting to follow the consequences of one incident and how it ripples in to so many other lives/situations. Penelope is brilliant.

I loved this every bit as much as Moon Tiger. Two for two and on to (many) more.
Mar 09, 2017 Kathleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: women-writers
“It’s only by chance that I’m here.”

This is a light read, but with thoughts that linger—not just about chaos and interconnectedness, but about what it means to live through chance occurrences, to age, to remember and to adapt. Very enjoyable, and now that I've found her, I’m looking forward to my next Penelope Lively experience.
Mar 31, 2012 Barbara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's the last day of March and I have found my second special book of the year. While I admired 'Train Dreams' for its spare and purposely disconnected narrative, I adored 'How It All Began' for its urban sophistication and its commitment to literature itself. One might even consider literature, and literacy, as the leitmotif of this Penelope-perfect novel . Although ostensibly a 21st century 'for-want-of-a-nail' story, which others have called the butterfly effect or chaos theory, both the cent ...more
Larry H
Apr 16, 2012 Larry H rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Life can change in a split second. One afternoon, retired schoolteacher Charlotte is mugged on a busy London street, causing her to fall and break her hip. That accident causes a ripple effect in the lives of several seemingly unconnected people, with poignant, frustrating, and potentially life changing results.

Charlotte, who has always been fiercely independent, finds herself forced into living with her daughter, Rose, and her husband, Gerry. Rose works for a once-notable historian who is inter
I love the premise of this book, that a single incident, such someone being mugged, could have a ripple effect into the lives of 6 or 7 other people, most of whom aren't even aware of the victim. In this, Charlotte has been mugged and as a result has injured her hip, requiring her to move in with her daughter, Rose and her husband, Gary. But because of her accident, we are introduced to Rose, who, needing to reshuffle her work, introduces us to her employer, Lord Henry, a one-time prominent acad ...more
Dec 17, 2015 Damaskcat rated it it was amazing
I have read several of Penelope Lively's novels over the years and have always found them enjoyable. She captures every day life and the nuances of relationships in a way which the reader can relate to their own life. She has light touch and there is always humour lurking in the background. This story shows how trivial everyday actions can have ramifications which no one can foresee or plan for.

In this novel, Charlotte is mugged and breaks her hip in the resultant fall. For some weeks she needs
Lynn G.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 26, 2012 Connie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found Penelope Lively eminently quotable and her life philosophies well expressed. That said, I will quote her here: "Charlotte was quarreling with Henry James. That is to say, she was finding James's sentence constructions a bit too much..." I felt the same pain. I found it very distracting when mystery symbols regularly popped up in the text of Lively's own sentence constructions. What symbols? Square, dot, square, dot, square, dot. Most of my attention stayed trying to make sense of it. But ...more
Susan Chapman
I've liked other titles by this writer but was disappointed with this one. A plot has been devised, and characters invented to implement it. A nice well-educated elderly lady -- about the author's age, with a middle-class background rather like that of the author -- gets mugged, and some not-very-earthshaking consequences ensue for various others, including the muggee's daughter, her daughter's employer, her daughter's employer's niece, her daughter's employer's niece's lover, etc.

None of these
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Penelope Lively CBE (born March 17, 1933) is a prolific, popular and critically acclaimed author of fiction for both children and adults. She has been shortlisted three times for the Booker Prize, winning once for Moon Tiger in 1987.

Born in Cairo in 1933, she spent her early childhood in Egypt, before being sent to boarding school in England at the age of twelve. She read Modern History at St Anne
More about Penelope Lively...

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“Forever, reading has been central, the necessary fix, the support system. Her life has been informed by 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 is as much a product of what she has read as of the way in which she has lived; she is like millions of others built by books, for whom books are an essential foodstuff, who could starve without.” 36 likes
“She read to find out what it was like to be French or Russian in the nineteenth century, to be a rich New Yorker then, or a Midwestern pioneer. She read to discover how not to be Charlotte, how to escape the prison of her own mind, how to expand, and experience.” 12 likes
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