As she's done in so many earlier books, Ms. Lively writes with an astringent blend of sympathy and detachment, emotional wisdom and satiric wit, and the result, here, is a Chekhovian tale that's entertaining, even funny on the surface, but ultimately melancholy in its awareness of time and lost opportunities, its characters' apprehension of mortality and the limits to their dreams.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times
One of our most talented writers has written an elegant, witty work of fiction, deceptively simple, emotionally and intellectually penetrating, the kind of novel that brings a plot to satisfying closure but whose questions linger long afterward in the reader's mind.
Susan Cokal - New York Times Book Review
How It All Began,..focuses on the significance of stories, showing how lives touch and tangle with one another....This densely patterned novel feels at once clever and contrived. Each character seems the reflection of another, and several display a similar helplessness....This novel shows that if minor events wreak major effects, so can grand systems shape our own small ends—and our beginnings, too.
Abigail Deutsch - San Francisco Chronicle
The ever-productive, ever-graceful Penelope Lively returns to several pet themes—memory, history and the powerful role of happenstance in reshaping lives—with a fresh and charming novel that could well be called "Chance." ...Lively has provided a golden passport that will sweep you through the border control of other people's lives.
Heller McAlpin - Denver Post
In her latest title, the Booker Prize-winning author of Moon Tiger explores the far-reaching effect of happenstance, as individual circumstances shift, lives change, and the known is perceived in an altogether new light. The novel opens with the mugging of retired schoolteacher Charlotte Rainsford on a London street. Subsequently, a diverse cast of richly embroidered acquaintances and strangers find their lives irrevocably altered by this event, which many of them haven't even heard about. We see how the mugging affects Charlotte's daughter Rose, who works for a historian desperate to return to the limelight, and the spillover to his niece Marion, a cash-poor interior designer hunting for a business partner while carrying on an affair eventually revealed through a stray cell-phone call. Lively delivers her story about these intertwined lives with faultless dexterity, sly humor, keen insight, and deft economy. Verdict: Lively's 12th novel is a feel-good masterpiece that will delight faithful fans as well as those new to the work of this consummate storyteller. —Joyce Townsend, Pittsburg, CA
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