Caren's Reviews > How It All Began

How It All Began by Penelope Lively
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Nov 20, 11

bookshelves: adult-fiction
Read in November, 2011

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 much later in a faraway part of the world. One of her characters mentions this in passing in the book. Ms. Lively is a seasoned writer who gives her fully developed characters interesting thoughts and ideas. In brief, the plot hinges on how a random mugging of seventy-seven-year-old Charlotte, by a fourteen year old who grabs her purse and knocks her down, sets off a series of events in her life, and in the lives of those whose lives touch hers. By the end of the book, you will feel you know these people and are sorry to bid them farewell. We meet Charlotte's daughter, Rose, who is a personal assistant to Henry, an aging academic. When Charlotte's hip is broken in the mugging, Rose cannot accompany Henry to a conference in Manchester, so Marion, Henry's niece, takes her place. Marion sends a text to her lover, Jeremy, to advise him of her change of plans and Jeremy's wife, Stella, intercepts the text. Distraught, Stella begins divorce proceedings. Meanwhile, to engage her mind, Charlotte (who has moved in temporarily with Rose and Rose's husband, Gerry) takes on a Polish immigrant as a student. Charlotte is forced to tutor the Pole, Anton, in Rose's home, launching an unexpected and poignant friendship between Rose and Anton, a friendship that threatens to develop into something more. This is just the tip of the events that spin out, one after the other, taking the characters to places they had not planned to go. Each piece of the story fits into the whole and wraps up by the end in a very satisfying way. My little sojourn in modern-day Britain, courtesy of Ms. Lively, was such a pleasure, I came back to my real world with a sigh....
[This book brings to mind a YA novel which also seems to explore chaos theory, "As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth" by Lynne Rae Perkins.]
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