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How It All Began | [Penelope Lively]

How It All Began

When Charlotte Rainsford, a retired schoolteacher, is accosted by a petty thief on a London street, the consequences ripple across the lives of acquaintances and strangers alike. A marriage unravels after an illicit love affair is revealed through an errant cell phone message; a posh yet financially strapped interior designer meets a business partner who might prove too good to be true.
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Publisher's Summary

A vibrant new novel from Penelope Lively - a wry, wise story about the surprising ways lives intersect.

When Charlotte Rainsford, a retired schoolteacher, is accosted by a petty thief on a London street, the consequences ripple across the lives of acquaintances and strangers alike. A marriage unravels after an illicit love affair is revealed through an errant cell phone message; a posh yet financially strapped interior designer meets a business partner who might prove too good to be true; an old-guard historian tries to recapture his youthful vigor with an ill-conceived idea for a TV miniseries; and a middle-aged central European immigrant learns to speak English and reinvents his life with the assistance of some new friends.

Through a richly conceived and colorful cast of characters, Penelope Lively explores the powerful role of chance in people's lives and deftly illustrates how our paths can be altered irrevocably by someone we will never even meet. Brought to life in her hallmark graceful prose and full of keen insights into human nature, How It All Began is an engaging, contemporary tale that is sure to strike a chord with her legion of loyal fans as well as new readers. A writer of rare wisdom, elegance, and humor, Lively is a consummate storyteller whose gifts are on full display in this masterful work.

©2012 Penelope Lively (P)2011 Audible, Inc.

What the Critics Say

“Katherine Kellgren is an agile, appealing narrator who navigates the many characters with ease. Whether voicing a native Londoner or an English-language learner from the Continent, Kellgren exudes effusive and consistent energy…This is a well-paced, fun recording of an entertaining novel.” (AudioFile)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.7 (234 )
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3.9 (190 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Laurene New York 03-23-14
    Laurene New York 03-23-14 Member Since 2006
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Delightful mixture of the funny and poignant"

    The premise of this novel is that a single event -- the mugging of an elderly lady -- can through its ripple effects change the lives of several people. Because Rose needs to convalesce at her daughter's home, her daughter meets one of Rose's pupils (she teaches immigrants to read English) and falls in love for the first time in middle age; unfortunately, she's already married. This is very sensitively and movingly handled. Other plots include Rose's employer, a prominent semi-retired historian, getting involved with plans for a television series -- that part is often hilarious as the slick TV producer decides he's so awful ("That waistcoat!") he could be a great presenter.

    The events/plot of the story are not momentous or even especially tense, but I was always eager to get back to the characters and their lives and enjoyed every minute of Kellgren's performance. I'd recommend this book to people who like Ruth Rendell or Muriel Spark, but would occasionally like a less dark version or their view of human nature. Lively is not too sweet, but neither is she as harsh as those writers can be.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Diana Burlingame, CA, United States 02-24-13
    Diana Burlingame, CA, United States 02-24-13 Member Since 2007
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    "Penelope Lively at her liveliest"
    What did you love best about How It All Began?

    I loved the way the characters lives interacted with each other, each affecting the other without even knowing it. And what characters they were!


    What was one of the most memorable moments of How It All Began?

    When Marion realizes she doesn't have to give into despair and finally dumps Jeremy and prepares to move on with her life.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    When Rose and Antoine realize they love each other but at the same time realize they can't express that love aloud.


    Who was the most memorable character of How It All Began and why?

    I loved Charlotte because, like me, she is older but she is utterly independent and understanding. She knows something is going on with her daughter but is saavy enough not to say anything.


    Any additional comments?

    The narration is a bit fast in that hurried clipped way the Brits have, but once you get used to it, Kellgren's narration is spot on.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    M. J. Christensen Tucson, AZ. 11-30-12
    M. J. Christensen Tucson, AZ. 11-30-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Lovely Interconnected Stories"

    A humorous, well paced story that flows along well as we see how the characters' lives are changed by the mugging of Charlotte. In some ways, this reminds me a bit of Wodehouse in structure; some of the characters are funny at times, but also very human. A very entertaining read and although I found the narrator's voice harsh at first, I came to really enjoy and appreciate her reading after awhile. I especially like her voicing of Anton. Lively is one of my favorite authors and this is definitely one of her best books.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robin new york, new york, United States 09-23-12
    Robin new york, new york, United States 09-23-12 Member Since 2010

    Hi all. I'm in my 50's (that's relevant, i think), and I favor fiction. I like the british sensibility, and was introduced to the Forsyte Saga through audible ... loved it! I happen to also like Chinese writers, but they are not well represented yet at audible. Looking to follow readers with similar tastes ...

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "takes some time to adapt to english storytelling"

    overall, i liked this book ... better the second listen, once i'd adapted to english storytelling style. charming, with good characters. the narration, however, could have been much better.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Eva La Mesa, CA, United States 09-17-12
    Eva La Mesa, CA, United States 09-17-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Did not like at all"
    What would have made How It All Began better?

    Didnt like reader or story only finished because I started it


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    None that I could say


    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Beth TN, United States 08-21-12
    Beth TN, United States 08-21-12
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    "A Real Disappointment"
    Would you try another book from Penelope Lively and/or Katherine Kellgren?

    Possibly... I'd have to read the synopsis and reviews first. (Although that did me no good this time.)


    What could Penelope Lively have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

    It was just boring... I don't know, make it more entertaining! Throw a little excitement into it.


    How did the narrator detract from the book?

    I can honestly say out of all the books I've listened to since joining audible.com in January (it is now almost September) this was the first book I REALLY didn't like the narrator. Having several friends who're British, I usually love the British accent. But this woman's voice got on my nerves from her very first word. It was extremely annoying. But I thought the book would make it worth listening to her. Sadly, I was wrong.


    What character would you cut from How It All Began?

    The guy with whom the old man's niece had the affair. He was just awful... a waste of space. I think the only character I could honestly say I liked was the woman who was the long-lost friend...towards the end of the book. SHE was interesting. The rest could be scrapped. Build a story around her.


    Any additional comments?

    It's very seldom I don't like a book. I can generally plow through it and find something to enjoy. But for me, there was very little to enjoy about this one.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Victoria Warrenton, VA, United States 08-20-12
    Victoria Warrenton, VA, United States 08-20-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Perfectly lovely book"

    First the narrator, while taking a bit to get use to, was absolutely fantastic. She nailed the characters, the pace was spot on, and she was able to keep you in step with the emotionally changes in the book. The story itself was surprisingly unexpected. Great story, I began to love the people involved and hope it came out all right for everyone. Highly recommend this gem of a story.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John C. Campbell 08-20-12 Member Since 2010
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    "Quite English, quite entertaining of its kind"

    I suppose it is chicklit, but more sophisticated and a man can enjoy the many plot lines as they pass by at a rapid clip. PL really has a sharp wit, and the reader is good and not obtrusive.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Donna SEARSMONT, ME, United States 08-14-12
    Donna SEARSMONT, ME, United States 08-14-12 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "boring"
    What disappointed you about How It All Began?

    The characters were flat, not layered. The story flashed back and forth between characters making it confusing to follow rather than showing their connections. There was no point to the story other than to show how one event can affect many boring people in a number of ways. The movie "Crash" did an incredible job of making that same point with characters who were layered and interesting. I recommend that movie if you want to see a well-made point. I would not recommend this book.


    Would you ever listen to anything by Penelope Lively again?

    No


    What three words best describe Katherine Kellgren’s voice?

    Interesting.


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from How It All Began?

    All of them.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    L. Wilson NJ, USA 08-05-12
    L. Wilson NJ, USA 08-05-12
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    "Great story, superb narration"

    I loved this book!!! It could be that I listened to it on a great audio recording, but I believe it to be much more than that. Fluid, insightful writing, a well-integrated storyline, and the examination of the meaning of story and fiction are close to my heart. A storyline about a random act that has repercussions across several lives could be predictable, but this felt fresh to the very last sentence. I did find that this theme was mentioned explicitly by several characters over time, and normally that might annoy me. But here, it worked. It all did.

    Have already urged others to pick this up.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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