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Book club: Q&A with Penelope Lively - author of How It All Began

(41 Posts)
CariGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 03-May-12 15:45:32

Our book club novel for May is How It All Began by Booker Prize-winning author Penelope Lively. You can find out more here (and listen to her reading from the book) and add your questions for her on this thread.

Milly Wed 09-May-12 16:34:44

I got "How it all began" from the library yesterday, and could hardly put it down, but made myself so that I can savour it! I have just gone back to it and am half way through now. It is lovely to have people of our age in a book it makes it so much easier to identify with. Though one hopes one wont identify with being mugged! Another book I read recently that had older people in it was "The Upright Piano Player" by David Abbott. This had a sad start but was very interesting.

whitewave Wed 09-May-12 16:36:33

I've just ordered it

Milly Thu 10-May-12 22:14:20

I have just finished "How it all Began" - if you haven't finished it dont read on or I will spoil it for you!

I am left feeling sad - would have liked Anton to have a love life and he so wanted Rose. But a very moral book, all husbands and wives reunited!

I identified with Charlotte, we are the same age, and like her my mother/daughter relationship has altered and I often feel I am the daughter! This was very perceptive of the author! Dear old Henry was a lovely caricature of elderly men who were "someone" in their day, and still think they are. I know a few of them, though not in high positions like Henry, but old chaps who were Managers etc. and used to being listened to and respected.

A very enjoyable book. I am ashamed to say I have not read books by this author before but am going to remedy that.

Milly Fri 11-May-12 00:28:42

Amazing how all these things happened because Charlotte was mugged.

gma Mon 14-May-12 12:30:12

My copy (courtesy of Gransnet) of How it all Began, was lying on the doormat when I returned from shopping in the rain and cheered me up enormously. Too wet here to go into the garden this afternoon, so might have to start my new book, there is a benefit in this wet weather!!! Thanks again Gransnet. flowers

Annobel Mon 14-May-12 17:42:07

I thought I'd missed out on the freebie 'How it all Began', but came home from a weekend away to find it on the doormat. I finished a novel on the train, so no I have something to read -looking forward to starting it this evening. Thanks, Gransnet.

jeni Mon 14-May-12 17:45:51

Well I sent for one on the first day. No response!sad

Hankipanki Wed 16-May-12 13:43:51

Just got back from holiday and found my freebie on the mat. Thanks gransnet I am looking forward to reading it.

Mobell Thu 17-May-12 17:58:57

Sitting having lunch with DH and postie delivered lovely, Lively book, many thanks for the super surprise

JennyB Fri 18-May-12 08:13:52

I was lucky enough to get a copy of how it all began from the publishers, thank you gransnet. I loved the two themes, connectivity, how one event affects others and story. The characters are beautifully drawn and you want to know what happens to them. Henry's decline is as sensitively described as is Charlotte's recovery. Great to see how story is best used to teach literacy and a wonderful portrait of contemporary life.

MrsJamJam Fri 18-May-12 12:50:58

I've just finished reading this and greatly enjoyed it. Its interesting to explore the idea that an apparently random event can have an effect on people who at first sight seem to be almost unconnected to it. (If you haven't read the book yet, don't read on - *plot spoiler alert!*)

I felt so sad for Rose and Anton, but also pleased that the author recognised the implication that marriage sometimes leads to hard choices and that perhaps one cannot always have everything one wants. Would I be moral enough to make the same choice as Rose, or would selfishness have won? Makes me question my own motivations.

So glad Jeremy's wife finally managed to break free of her dominant sister, and that Henry can decline contentedly without ever quite realising how it happened.

Altogether a really satisfying read. Thank you, Penelope Lively.

sweetpea Sun 20-May-12 19:30:05

Thank you too for free copy, looking forward to reading it.

jeni Sun 20-May-12 20:27:31

I didn't get one sad

fatfairy Mon 21-May-12 08:00:27

I received a free copy - thanks Gransnet, I just love a freebie! I thought the story was lovely. Like Milly I had to pace myself when reading it, otherwise I would have wolfed it down. As it is, I gave myself time to think.
Interesting how the author juxtaposes the lives and thoughts of different characters: eg Charlotte muses that she is the sum of her experiences, and then in the next section we find Rose and her friend wondering what they've forgotten. Like MrsJamJam I felt sorry for Rose and Anton - but suspect I would have made a different choice (and this as a result of my own life experiences).
I haven't read Penelope Lively before, but I'm going straight on to Amazon to list her on my wish list!

ctussaud Tue 22-May-12 16:38:03

I was delighted to receive a copy to read from the publishers via Gransnet, and enjoyed the book very much. Not all the characters were 'oldies' but the majority were in that group so often overlooked by authors, so it was good that 'we' had our moment in the sun! The domino effect core of the book was well developed; the idea being that all the events described in the action were as a direct result of Charlotte's mugging and resultant physical incapacity. If you choose the correct point to apply your lever, you can shift the universe.....

Some characters were far more appealing than others: Anton, for instance, was more likeable than Henry, and Stella developed throughout the narrative and seemed to be freeing herself not only from her rather unpleasant husband Jeremy but also from the dominant sister Gill. It would have been good as well to see more positive stuff happening to the progenitrix Charlotte.

I shall certainly seek out more books by PL now that she is on my radar!

nanakate Tue 22-May-12 22:19:41

Thanks Gransnet for the copy of this book. It was such a lovely surprise, so smart in its hard back and its pretty dust jacket. And what was inside was just as good. I have just been doing a course on creative writing (yes, another wannabe) and have been thinking about point of view and how authors get inside a character's head and give the character a unique voice. It was good fun to concentrate not only on the story but on how Penelope Lively manages to give each of her characters a particular way of 'speaking' in their internal dialogue. Jeremy always finding a justification for his bad behaviour, and two-timing his mistress with his wife (very clever), Stella never knowing her own mind, Charlotte thinking alternatively about her past and her painful present. Actually I thought the description of pain was very well done.

Another thing that we 'learned' in our creative writing course was that, in a conventional novel, the 'initiating incident' that sets the ball rolling, happens about 25 pages in. By that time we usually know about the main characters, the setting, time and place etc. But good authors are free to break the rules. Here PL puts the incident right at the very start of the book, before we even know who the other characters are going to be. It's very entertaining the way the story unfolds.

I'm looking forward to reading more Penelope Lively!

gracesmum Thu 24-May-12 22:08:18

I am really enjoying this book! I missed my chance of a "hard" copy so downloaded it and Penelope Lively is every bit as good as I remembered from Family Album and a book I read years ago called, I think, The Road to Litchfield. There is so much in her books that resonates with people of our age and she uses language so well.

jeni Thu 24-May-12 22:23:17

I still haven't had a copy!

Annobel Thu 24-May-12 22:56:35

Mine is a paperback edition. I have finished it and enjoyed it thoroughly.

Hankipanki Fri 25-May-12 10:54:06

Just finished the book and enjoyed it immensely. Thank you for some very pleasant hours reading it in the sunshine. No questions but more Penelope Lively for me.

Ganja Sat 26-May-12 16:24:11

My first job out of secretarial college was at the Institute of Historical Research, oh how I recognise Henry. Lots of the famous, in those days, names came in and out. Of course PL's husband was a history don, so she has got it absolutely spot on. Takes me right back. Moon Tiger is still my favourite though.

snowyboots Thu 31-May-12 15:52:28

First of all a big thank you to Gransnet for my free copy of 'How it all Began', what a wonderful book, I just couldn't put it down. It was a true delight to read and I have now passed it on to my mother. The book is beautifully written and from the first page you are quickly drawn into the lives of the characters, I really liked Charlotte, Rose and Anton. It is a book I will keep and read again.

fritter Fri 01-Jun-12 15:00:45

I loved the character of Charlotte - that mixture of fierce independence and high intelligence and physical pain, which she can't deny - and I wondered if she was a character you could have written at any other time of your life?

scribblegranny Fri 01-Jun-12 15:03:53

You have written a fari few novels now - do you still find it easy to have ideas for new books? And do you approach the start of a novel with as much enthusiasm as you always did?