How It All Began by Penelope Lively
Happenstance, coincidence, fate – all conspire to change our lives in unexpected ways. How It All Began by Penelope Lively begins when Charlotte is mugged, breaking her hip as she falls, and events are set in motion that will change some lives along the way.
If it hadn’t been for Charlotte’s fall, her daughter, Rose, would not have received a call from the hospital and she would not have had to take a day off work. If Rose had not had to take a day off work, her employer, Henry, would not have had to ask his niece, Marion, to be his companion for a lunch in Manchester. If Marion had not accompanied her uncle to lunch she would not have had to leave a message for her lover, Jeremy, to cancel their date – and she would not have met George Harrington who may or may not be the dream client. If Jeremy had not left his cell phone in his jacket his wife, Stella, would never have known about Marion’s message. If Stella had never known about Jeremy’s infidelity …..
Rose insists that Charlotte recuperate in the home of Rose and her husband, Gerry. Here Charlotte is slowing going crazy with boredom, and invites one of her adult English as a Second language students, Anton, to come to the house for tutoring since she cannot get out. If she had not done this, Anton and Rose would never have met.
How It All Began is such a delicious book! Charlotte is a retired teacher and now helps adults learn to read. She realizes that Anton is not making progress and is puzzled – he is obviously bright. It is when she begins to teach using “story” that he finally starts to understand and finds some success in his efforts. Charlotte is also a literary snob – readers will relate to her peering at others in the doctor’s waiting room to see what they are reading – with respect or contempt. You will enjoy discovering that you know the books she uses to teach Anton the power of storytelling and language. This is a book for booklover’s as we share Charlotte’s love of words and the books she has read.
You will fly along with all of these characters – each one a delight. Marion struggling with her design business in an economic downturn. Jeremy trying to hold on to both his mistress and his marriage. Rose attempting to keep it all together at home and at work as she discovers how very much she enjoys the company of her mother’s Eastern European student. And Henry, the aging professor, once well respected and connected, not realizing that he is now a bit of a has-been.
But, as Henry so astutely says, “We are the victims of circumstance. I have the greatest mistrust of circumstance…. History is bedeviled by circumstance. Progress is forever skewed by circumstance – the unforeseen event, the unpredicted circumstance.... Without circumstance we’d not have such fun reading How It All Began.