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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.

Critic Reviews

“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 Ratings

Overall

  • 3.7 out of 5.0
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Performance

  • 3.9 out of 5.0
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Story

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  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

A story that evokes smiles

A tale of the light side of life. Quirky, funny, all too human. Nice listen when you don't want to think too much.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Lydia
  • Stouffville, Ontario, Canada
  • 05-21-12

Very engaging book!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would recommend if the friend was interested in the English setting and genre. The narrator is absolutely fantastic and the story ties up beautifully. It is a very believable story set in contemporary times which appeals to me a lot lately.

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

I don't think about most memorable moments. Instead I judge the novel as a whole. If I am interested from hour to hour that is what matters.

What does Katherine Kellgren bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Just a fantastic narration on all levels. One of the best narrators I have heard.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Narration impossible to understand

What did you like best about How It All Began? What did you like least?

A good book spoiled by unacceptable audio delivery

How did the narrator detract from the book?

The text was impossible to understand.

Any additional comments?

Please consider having someone else narrate this book.

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  • Mary
  • Portland, OR, United States
  • 06-26-17

Very British, very amsuing

What an interesting way to tell stories which all took place mostly by happenstance. I think Lively could become a favorite for me, especially with the same Katherine Kellgren as narrator. She did an excellent job of delineating the various characters voices. If you enjoy quirky British characters and humor, you'll enjoy this.

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Couldn't Finish This One

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

The voice of the narrator was grating. I had to stop listening to it.

Has How It All Began turned you off from other books in this genre?

Not at all.

What didn’t you like about Katherine Kellgren’s performance?

The voice was to high pitched and it just grated and detracted from the book itself. Maybe I'll just read the rest of the story.

What character would you cut from How It All Began?

None.

Any additional comments?

Besides the reading performance, the story didn't seem to be going anywhere. Being an avid reader and listener of books of all types, I have seldom stopped listening to a book before. This one was a first and I just couldn't continue. And maybe if the story had been more compelling, I would have forced myself to go on.

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  • will33
  • Laguna Niguel, CA United States
  • 06-15-16

A decent distraction on a long drive

What did you like best about How It All Began? What did you like least?

I enjoyed the fact that there were different storylines with intersecting characters.

Would you recommend How It All Began to your friends? Why or why not?

No, it was just average.

What do you think the narrator could have done better?

The narrator used a very strange voice for the foreign character, Anton. It was a distraction and made him sound somehow less intelligent than the words would indicate.

Do you think How It All Began needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

Heavens, no. There is nothing I need to know about any of the characters.

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charming tale

If you could sum up How It All Began in three words, what would they be?

Stories occur because of seemingly random events that change people's lives. The characters were interesting, likable, recognizable.

What other book might you compare How It All Began to and why?

Can't think of one.

Which scene was your favorite?

I like the story of the daughter, her relationship with her husband and the man she tutored in English.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No.

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Just not a great story

I thought it would develop but it never did. The reader had a nice cadence and voice. Could not recommend.

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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.

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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.