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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

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.

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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

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Beth
  • TN, United States
  • 08-21-12

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.

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  • Victoria
  • Warrenton, VA, United States
  • 08-20-12

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.

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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.

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  • Story

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.

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  • Story

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.

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  • Janice
  • Sugar Land, TX, United States
  • 07-30-12

Mundane chaos

The apparent premise of this story was how chaos theory could apply to ordinary lives based on a single event - the mugging of an elderly lady by an unknown (and throughout the story anonymous) assailant. We meet a fairly common cast of middle class characters whose lives are altered to some degree by this event, but the changes are pretty mundane. I was hoping to see something of real interest happen, but was disappointed. Jobs and relationships experienced various stresses, but I I got tired of the self centeredness of all but one of the characters. The one character who earned my sympathy was Anton, the Eastern European immigrant struggling to learn English in order to apply for meaningful work. The reactions and thoughts of the other characters were predictable and usually annoyingly selfish. I found my thoughts frequently drifting off in the middle of converstions in which the participants were also allowing their thoughts to drift from each other - life immitating art. The author states in the final chapter that "endings are an arbitrary device" because of course the characters' lives presumably continue onward beyond the pages of the book. In spite of that thought, all is resolved in very tidy (and predictable) fashion.

The reading by Katherine Kellgren was enthusiastic, energetic, and successfully differentiated the characters. It probably helped to keep some interest going in the story that I would not have been able to muster if I had read it in print.

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  • Story

Easy listeneing

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

Yes - I already recommended it as an interesting "slice of life" story.

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

The parakeet's on Hampstead Heath - being described as "immigrants, like me" by the reading student.

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

I can't imagine having that much time!

Any additional comments?

Not deep and meaningful, but intriguing and very pleasant.

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  • Story

A Lively Tale by Lively

This is a contemporary, fantastically humorous look at the philosophy of the butterfly effect. Can the flapping of a butterfly's wings cause a tornado after all? Charlotte Rainsford, a retired schoolteacher, is the butterfly. The butterfly is mugged. From there begins a cascade of events joining people, places and outcomes that without the mugging may never have happened. The reader can't help but laugh at some of the situations the characters find themselves in. But what is more funny is their reactions to these same events.

It's a delightful, easy to read novel well read by Kellgren. It doesn't require notecards to keep track of complex intricacies within the subplots. They're easy to follow and understand. And most of us can recognize ourselves and laugh at what comes next.

I highly recommend adding this book to your library. Well done.