Monday, April 07, 2008

Consequences


Penelope Lively’s Consequences follows the lives of Lorna, her daughter, Molly and her granddaughter, Ruth. I like Penelope Lively’s style of writing, richly emotional but still taut and concise. Although I think that it is more than a love story I think this quote from the book jacket is not a bad summary:

“An enthralling examination of interweaving love and history, Consequences pinpoints the moments when three women in very different times find love.”

It starts in 1935 when two young people, Lorna and Matt meet quite by chance in St James’s Park in London. They come from very different backgrounds but are instantly attracted to each other and despite opposition from Lorna’s parents they get married and move to a cottage in deepest Somerset. As the title indicates the predominant theme of this book is how events follow on from chance meetings and how our lives are changed because of the decisions we make. For some time now I’ve been interested in the Second World War period and although I wasn’t alive then it seems to me as though this book captures the atmosphere of that period. There is a nostalgic feel to the settings, looking back to how things were and how the war inevitably changed people’s lives and expectations.

Lorna and Matt had a daughter, Molly, then the war began and Matt was called up. I won’t say too much as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it. It’s full of such quotable extracts, such as this in defining happiness Lorna realises that it is “another condition, of a different quality, a state of being that lifts you above ordinary existence, that pervades every moment, that confers immunity.”

The future is always the unknown: “ … you are always standing on the brink, in a place where you cannot see ahead, there is nothing certain except what lies behind. This should be terrifying, but somehow it is not.”

This message of hope pervades the book despite the tragedies and difficulties that happen. Life continues after the war, and the changes in society are reflected in the attitudes of people towards each other:

“This was a bizarre new society in which class barriers were not broken down but subtly eroded … You still placed a person by their voice … but other things mattered too. Confidence, efficiency, sang-froid; selfishness, greed, shirking.”

People no longer knew where they were and where they belonged: “This was a world divided into them and us, with many subtle and significant sub-divisions.”

Molly grew up in this society and having gone through university, took a job as a librarian “because someone had left a copy of the Evening Standard in the tube” advertising the job and she thought why not? Thus setting in motion another train of events. In this section I particularly liked the descriptions of the library and of books (I used to be a librarian). Here are just a few examples:

“Fiction is one strident lie – or rather, many competing lies; history is a long narrative of argument and reassessment; travel shouts of self-promotion; biography is just pushing a product. As for autobiography …”

“That is the function of books: they offer a point of view, they offer many conflicting points of view, they provoke thought, they provoke irritation and admiration and speculation. They take you out of yourself and put you down somewhere else from whence you never entirely return.”

“The surface repose of a library is a cynical deception.”

Molly became a confident, determined and self-sufficient character, finding it exhilarating to cope with the challenges in life. For her work is the determining factor, being a wage earner. Molly refused to marry James, Ruth’s father and Ruth enjoyed the James’ presence in her life as “a sort of benevolent patron on the fringes of everyday existence.” For Molly, as she contemplated her life and the consequences of the choices she had made, Ruth’s “emphatic presence seemed to make sense of chance, of happenstance.”

Ruth was also an independent character, whose marriage to Peter failed and their children alternated between them in their two flats. She reflected:

“Every conception is fortuitous, every birth. That said, Ruth always saw her own existence as perhaps peculiarly accidental, spun from the odd conjunction of two people whose meeting was an unlikely chance. … Only now, in mid-life – for that was where she was, after all – did she see this background, and her very presence, as a distinctly precarious event. This put you in your place, somehow.”

The book ends with her search the cottage in Somerset where Matt and Lorna lived. I loved the description of her journey to the cottage in such simple and direct language which perfectly conveys the scenery. Once she left the motorways and main roads she was into the countryside lanes:

“You burrowed into this landscape, she saw. The motorways rushed through it, and the A this and the B that, but as soon as you abandoned those dictatorial highways you had slipped off into another sphere. You were in the lanes, you were in narrow tunnels between high hedge banks, routes that also knew quite well what they were about and where they were going but that was their own immemorial business, and you were now in their domain. You went where they went and that was that.”

You feel as though you’ve travel through time and place in reading this book. Penelope Lively has a website with information about the other books she has written. I thought I’d read most of them but I see there are some I haven’t come across. More treasures to find and read!

11 comments:

heather (errantdreams) said...

I just love the quotes you include when you talk about books!

Dorothy W. said...

I have several Lively novels on my shelves (although not Consequences), but I have yet to read her -- I'm looking forward to it!

Dorothy W. said...

Wait a second -- I've got my Penelope's mixed up! I was thinking of Penelope Fitzgerald. She's the one I haven't read. I've read and enjoyed Lively. Oops.

Kay said...

This book sounds so lovely and I think the cover is great. Aren't they coming up with some of the best covers these days? I'll have to put this author on my list as I have never read any of her books. Treasure indeed!

Emily Barton said...

I've never read any Penelope Lively, but I can see that's a gap in my reading that must be filled soon.

BooksPlease said...

Thanks, Heather.

Dorothy, well I'm glad that's cleared up. I haven't read Penelope Fitzgerald either.

Kay, that is a good cover - it actually reflects the content of the book - unlike some.

Emily, I hope you can get round to reading one of her books.

litlove said...

Roll on May when this comes out in paperback! Great review - thank you for warming me up for this one!

Les said...

You definitely enjoyed this better than I did. Glad to hear it! I still plan to give her another chance. I know I have something else by her around here somewhere!

Table Talk said...

I loved this book. it is sometimes quite hard to talk about it without simply recounting what happens and yet at the end you are aware of the development of a pattern and of a ground swell of hope even in the darkest of situations. I'm so glad you enjoyed it too.

BooksPlease said...

Litlove, it'll soon be May!

Les, I enjoyed The Photograph, maybe you could try that.

Table Talk, I'm glad you loved it too.

Les said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I'll add The Photograph to my Amazon list.