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How It All Began

3.45 of 5 stars 3.45  ·  rating details  ·  4,179 ratings  ·  822 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 t

Kindle Edition, 239 pages
Published (first published January 1st 2011)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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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
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
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
Kim Fay
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
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
Friederike Knabe
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Lynn G.
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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
B the BookAddict
Sep 28, 2013 B the BookAddict rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Shane, Marguerite
Shelves: fiction

In How it All Began, Penelope Lively proposes the butterfly effect i.e. in South America a butterfly flaps its wings and eventually a tidal wave results in Asia. 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 sc
I recently read Capital by John Lanchester, a very, very long book similar in many ways to this one. Lanchester has a much larger and more diverse cast of London characters, whose stories intersect only occasionally, while this one is structured according to "the butterfly effect" as a single incident affects the lives of a much smaller cast. The style, the short scenes, the light irony, the implicit social criticism, and the insight into character are all very similar. But this one is also abou ...more
I have often thought about how a simple act or a quick decision has ended up having the most profound impact on my life--if I hadn't volunteered here, I never would have met a certain individual, who told a friend about me, which caused the friend to offer me a part-time job. And that job ended up being the best job that I ever had. If my husband hadn't broken his leg after leaping out of a perfectly good airplane, he never would have gone to law school. You know, it's the old "if you give a mou ...more
Barbara A
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

Walking into work today, I was struck by how perfect it was: high blue skies, warm but not sweltering, sunny. That is very similar to what it feels like to step into a Penelope Lively book: in the hands of such a master craftswoman and storyteller, the journey gives you a deep sense of readerly peace.

Here she plays with the idea of how one event -- the mugging of an older retired teacher -- has its "butterfly wings" ripple effect through several lives. The attack means Charlotte has to move in w
Kasa Cotugno
Penelope Lively uses the chaos theory as a template for this story, with a mugging setting into motion events that upset the lives of seemingly random people around London. There are threads connecting them, but their stories spin independently, almost like a series of linked short stories. The British do this so well, creating satisfying novels populated with interesting people. warts and all. These situations are not all very original, their resolutions not all happy, but interspersed within t ...more
Meg B.
This is my kind of book. A seemingly chance occurrence sets in motion a series of events that have interesting and sometimes profound effects on the lives of a group of characters. It is loosely based on chaos theory. One character tries to control and plan every aspect of his life; another prefers to fly by the seat of his pants. An elderly character experiences a seemingly random assortment of memories from her life as she recovers from an accident. Chance or fate? Chaos or order? There is no ...more
Austen to Zafón
I always enjoy Penelope Lively's books. Here, an older woman is mugged and injured enough to have to spend weeks recuperating in the home of her married daughter. This has a cascade of effects on other people's lives, from her daughter's employer (an aging and increasingly forgetful historian) to the employer's niece's lover's wife. The butterfly effect as fiction. While I read this quickly and with relish, it wasn't her best and I found that the constantly changing viewpoints of 9 different sto ...more
Knowing of Lively’s previous work, I had expected a good book. What I got was an absolute gem, a pleasure to read and savor. Lively pens a great story, but it is the telling which has me spell-bound. This is a tumultuous story, with it’s ups and downs, and it’s hell-breaking-loose moments, but the author tells it comfortingly, with wit and wisdom and that rare panache of making even the more serious events look amusing. Her characters are sketched with a deep and intimate understanding, and Live ...more
An elderly woman is mugged on a London street. The mugger doesn't figure in the subsequent events but Charlotte's injury causes small disruptions in multiple lives and eventually upends some of them. A love affair blows up a marriage; a vain old historian envisages new popularity as a cultural icon; an immigrant begins to think he can make a successful new life. In Penelope Lively's hands, the well-worn literary device of tracking the repercussions of a random act takes on new life as a witty an ...more
Un altro bellissimo romanzo di un'autrice che amo da tempo, Penelope Lively. Dopo averla scoperta nel 2009 con Tre vite, ho continuato ad apprezzarla in Family Album e Amori imprevisti di un rispettabile biografo. How It All Began è un romanzo che riflette sulla casualità, sull'effetto che un singolo avvenimento, peraltro nemmeno particolarmente significativo e anzi piuttosto banale da un punto di vista universale, può influenzare in modo profondo molte vite.
Robert Palmer
This novel might just as well have been called "the butterfly effect in action" as this is what the story is all about and a very good example of the afore mentioned effect. Charlotte , a retired school teacher is mugged on a London street, which causes a chain of events that changes's the lives of many people. A marriage falls apart, an interior designer meets a business man who might be the answer to a financially. Failing business,and old historian gets involved in a bad idea for a TV show,a ...more
It's the dark and gloomy time of year. Wouldn't you like to visit London, and be invited into the lives of a cluster of very interesting people as they are affected by a chance encounter? Let Penelope Lively take you there. Her novel is an exploration of "chaos theory", the idea that small changes in initial conditions could have great implications for the final outcome. It's also known as the "butterfly effect", which says that a butterfly may flutter its wings in the Amazon and a storm occurs ...more
Kathryn Bashaar
This was a fun, easy read. It's basically about "the butterfly effect": an elderly woman named Charlotte is mugged on a London street, and the event has a ripple effect in the lives of people around her, some of whom she doesn't even know. In a few cases, lives are profoundly changed. In other cases, a window merely opens in someone's life.
I liked Charlotte as a character. She is the kind of person I imagine I'll be in old age: bookish, good-hearted, enduring the aches & pains & losses
Marilyn Colyar
Witty, charming, very British and wise this novel by Penelope Lively. Perhaps Lively would be another adjective. I loved what the writer has to say about reading, about teaching, about language, about aging. Charlotte, around whom the plot of the novel revolves in that her encounter with a mugger triggers the "butterfly effect" on an interesting group of people, says this about teaching. . . . "I was lucky enough to have the knack of transmission--I could get them to see and hear a poem, to abso ...more
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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...
Moon Tiger The Photograph Family Album Consequences The Ghost of Thomas Kempe

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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.” 23 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.” 6 likes
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