Penelope Lively - How It All Began (4 stars)

The author of the Booker-winning Moon Tiger continues to display a talent for sharp observation

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Penelope Lively - How It All Began

(Fig Tree)

It’s been 24 years since Penelope Lively won the Booker Prize for Moon Tiger, but her new novel shows that her writing is still sharp and acutely relevant. On the surface, How It All Began is a light-hearted, sometimes comical drama about middle class Londoners. But it’s also an exacting look at how an unexpected event – from being mugged by a wayward youth to the current global recession – can wake people up to their own complacency.

Ageing English teacher Charlotte has her bag snatched, a chance event that alters not only her own life but that of her daughter Rose, Rose’s employer Henry, Henry’s niece Marion and so on. Occasionally, Lively over-eggs this motif; some personalities are more thinly drawn than others and a central love affair doesn’t quite set the pages alight. Overall, however, the entertaining ensemble of characters serves to channel the author’s primary idea – that a person’s life can be changed irreversibly by a faceless stranger – in her typically engaging manner.

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