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How It All Began Paperback – 3 May 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 91 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (3 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0241957273
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241957271
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 108,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


More stylish than many writers half her age . . . Lively knows a thing or two about storytelling . . . her candour is refreshing, and reminds us that you don't have to lie to yourself to live life finely until the very end (The Times)

Contains some of Lively's funniest and most enjoyable character studies . . . she remains a sublime storyteller (Guardian)

Elegant and engrossing, this is a gently funny and touching portrait of the complex path life can take (Easy Living)

Deeply comical, essentially kind-hearted, wonderfully written and seasoned with a rare wisdom (Literary Review)

Witty and astute (Daily Mail)

An engaging read (Woman's Own)

Lively's prose is indeed lively, her humour wry and her insights into the human condition both wise and moving (Sunday Express)

As always, Lively has a precise control of the comic, and an ear for dialogue honed over more than 40 years of writing (Independent on Sunday)

A deftly constructed, always enjoyable novel (Sunday Times)

About the Author

Penelope Lively has written many prize-winning novels for adults and children. They include: The Road To Lichfield, According To Mark, Moon Tiger (which won the 1987 Booker Prize), Heat Wave, Spiderweb, The Photograph, Making It Up, Consequences and Family Album. Penelope Lively lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The treat begins with the presentation, such a lovely book to own and hold. Realising that the dust jacket designer really knew the book gives a warm and cosy feeling. Each item shown has a sweet significance. The tempting brownies, Spring flowers, piles of books and the welcoming chair, all carefully placed on the attractive `Country Living' style cover, actually echo the story.

And`story' is what it's all about. Well that and the chaos theory, which is generously demonstrated by the falling house of cards effect, set off by retired English teacher Charlotte being mugged and injured. I imagined her as a thinly disguised version of Penelope Lively herself, so tender are the observations and pertinent the touching references to getting older, getting over things and getting on with life anyway. The accommodations required when busily keeping one's personality, relationships and confidence in good shape.

All in all it's a bit Maeve Binchy, in the nicest possible way, as we have several strands to follow, each of which will hopefully come together for the good of the characters. The writing is just delightful; language wonderfully fluent, especially when Charlotte, Rose and Henry are in full flow. PL is the mistress of the apposite phrase and the surprising observation; it is a treat to read such top class prose. I always enjoy her finely tuned ear for natural dialogue, she offers utterly genuine and sparkling conversations. The sometimes telling difference between what is said and what is thought.

`How It all Began' is particularly for us lucky ones who find true joy and companionship in books. Much of the action takes place around literature - there's a fair bit about our inner lives too.
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By Purpleheart TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 20 Mar. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
'The pavement rises up and hits her. Slams into her face, drives the lower rim of her glasses into her cheek. She is laid out there, prone. What is this? Voices are chattering above her:people are concerned. Of course.'

Penelope Lively's latest novel opens with Charlotte hitting the ground. All is confusion. Is this somebody old falling? or fainting? We quickly realise that she is elderly, has been mugged and that this is the start of a butterfly effect. Charlotte breaks a hip so will have to move in with her daughter while she recuperates, this means her daughter's employer will ask his niece to accompany him to a lecture and one event will end up altering the path of several lives through subsequent meetings and ripple effects.

Lively has kept her canvass intentionally small. The impact is large on the lives of the people concerned rather than on world events. Her satirical pen has great fun with Lord Peters and his foray in the world of television, also with philandering Jeremy and Marion she examines the world of interior design with an excoriating wit. The characters treated with the most sympathy are Anton and Rose who are drawn to each other when they meet in Rose's house as Charlotte teaches Eastern European immigrant Anton to read in English. Charlotte is surely often the voice of Lively herself - with her views on narrative, rereading and looking back on her life and her various incarnations with interest and humour. I did wonder why Rose had chosen such a boring life and partner given her lively, interested and interesting parents and that had me questioning the credibility of her character...but overall the story carries you along.

Very readable
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I read Penelope Lively's Booker-winning Moon River I was captivated, so couldn't resist her latest story - and I know you should never judge a book by its cover but this one instantly appealed: the shades of blue, the piles of books (including, surprisingly, I thought until I read the story and realised its significance, the da Vinci Code), the pot of tea, the comfortable chair, and the jug of white tulips. Each aspect of this lovely cover becomes relevant as the story progresses.

The author refers to the proverbial butterfly effect, where nothing that happens would have happened if it hadn't been for one small, insignificant event. In this story, everything is sparked when Charlotte, a retired and inspiring English teacher, is mugged and left lying on the pavement by an unknown attacker, her hip broken, her handbag gone. As a result, her daughter Rose cannot accompany her employer, Henry, an ageing and increasingly out-of-touch historian, to Manchester where he is to deliver a lecture. Not wanting to travel alone, Henry asks his niece Marion to go with him, and forgets to take his lecture notes, which Rose would almost certainly have remembered. Marion sends a text message to her lover, Jeremy, but Jeremy's wife sees the message. Marion meets a potentially wealthy client at lunch before the lecture, with unforeseen consequences when she accepts a commission from him. Then there is Anton, an Eastern European (we never learn what nationality he is), whose difficulty in reading English prevents him from obtaining a job as an accountant rather than on a building site where he is currently employed...
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