Consequences by Penelope Lively

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Consequences by Penelope Lively

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Paul Curd
Reviewed by Paul Curd
Summary: A novel covering three generations of women that explores loss, the nature of memory, and the way time changes perceptions. Beautiful, moving and perfectly crafted. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: May 2007
Publisher: Fig Tree
ISBN: 978-0670915835

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Penelope Lively has been writing for thirty years now, and she has produced around forty novels. It is safe to say that in that time she has learnt her craft to perfection.

Consequences is the story of three generations of women, beginning in the 1930s with Lorna, then focusing on Molly in the post-war years and finally rounding off the tale with up-to-date Ruth. But this is no 'family saga' novel. The book is about the way time changes perceptions, and about memory and loss.

Lively paints with quick, broad brushstrokes, then suddenly paints in a detail that brings her characters and their emotions to life on the page. The history of seventy years is sketched out in less than 300 pages, and yet you feel you know the principal characters intimately. Lively is a master at telling the reader more by writing less.

There's a heavy tension hanging over the first part of the novel. Wealthy debutante Lorna's love affair with struggling artist Matt is brilliantly drawn. The young lovers run off to Somerset to live in Arcadian bliss and a poverty that Lively carefully describes yet still seems idyllic. Baby Molly is born, and you know that in a few years the perfect life of Lorna and her little family will be shattered by war. With the benefit of what we know now, the events are predictable. But Lively's technical skill in telling the tale makes that predictability acutely poignant.

Molly's leg of the tale is concerned with post-war austerity and the dawning of the sixties. Everyone is artistic and bohemian, and they are all very nice. When Ruth comes along I thought she might rebel, and for a while it does indeed seem that she will succumb to the lucrative allure of Thatcher's Britain. She marries, and her husband Peter is the one character we find it hard to sympathise with.

Lively is a master of plotting and structure, and this story is satisfyingly symmetrical. We end up pretty much where we began, and it feels like we have come home ourselves.

This is a novel to be savoured.

Further reading suggestion: Private Papers by Margaret Forster, Pictures of You by Jane Elmor or How I Killed Margaret Thatcher by Anthony Cartwright.

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