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How It All Began by Penelope Lively

Published on Tuesday, July 7, 2015

How It All Began by Penelope Lively

Great read for book groups!

This is a contemporary novel set in England, in which we meet retired school teacher, Charlotte.  Charlotte is minding her own business visiting the shops, when out of the blue, she is knocked down by thief who steals her hand bag and, but even worse, breaks her hip

Now, this independent lady is forced to move in with her daughter Rose and Rose’s dull but kind husband, Gerry.  Charlotte feels like an intruder, she misses her books, and her home.  She also has to suspend her volunteer work as a literacy trainer.  But she invites one of her more promising students, Anton, to continue on with his lessons at the house while Rose is at work. 

Anton is from an Eastern European country, trained as an accountant, but has been working construction jobs until he is proficient enough in English to apply for a job in his field.  He is an earnest student and clearly Charlotte is a talented and effective teacher.  Rose begins to join them for tea and she and Anton realize that they have simpatico spirits. 

Rose works for Henry, a wealthy former academic of advancing years, but because of Charlotte’s mishap, she is unable to accompany him to one of his guest lectures at a conference.  Instead, he is accompanied by his niece Marion, an interior designer.  Marion’s inattention leads to Henry not having his notes at the lecture, and he humiliates himself.  Henry decides to publish something important that will help restore his reputation.  Meanwhile, at the conference Marion meets up with a married antiques dealer and they begin an ill-fated affair which causes his wife to threaten him with divorce.  And so on it goes.

The idea behind the book is “turn a corner, find your fate”.  The out of the blue fall that Charlotte takes when she is robbed begins a chain of events that impact a large swath of people who, otherwise, would probably never have met or, at least, interacted in the way they did.  It’s a case of never knowing how the decisions you make, the route you take, when and where you happen to be at any time, can change the course of your life and the lives of others.  The novel speaks of chance, fortune, and the absolute randomness of life.  This story is told through a cast of enjoyable characters and quirky circumstances.  The story is full of good humor and human kindness.  I highly recommend it to book groups as well as individual readers.

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