November 26, 2007


Consequences by Penelope Lively
Contemporary Fiction
Finished on 11/20/07
Rating: 2/5 (Below Average)

Book Description

The Booker Prize-winning author's first novel since The Photograph is a sweeping saga of three generations of women, their lives, and loves.

A chance meeting in St. James's Park begins young Lorna and Matt's intense relationship. Wholly in love, they leave London for a cottage in a rural Somerset village. Their intimate life together-Matt's woodcarving, Lorna's self-discovery, their new baby, Molly-is shattered with the arrival of World War II. In 1960s London, Molly happens upon a forgotten newspaper-a seemingly small moment that leads to her first job and, eventually, a pregnancy by a wealthy man who wants to marry her but whom she does not love. Thirty years later, Ruth, who has always considered her existence a peculiar accident, questions her own marriage and begins a journey that takes her back to 1941-and a redefinition of herself and of love.

Told in Lively's incomparable prose, Consequences is a powerful story of growth, death, and rebirth and a study of the previous century-its major and minor events, its shaping of public consciousness, and its changing of lives.

Oh, this book had such potential! I've never read anything by Penelope Lively, but the cover caught my attention when the book first arrived in our store and I'm such a sucker for anything set during World War II. As I read the first 50 or so pages, I was reminded of both Rosamunde Pilcher's The Shell Seekers and Ian McEwan's Atonement; not necessarily because of similar storylines, but rather because of the same sort of richly evocative writing. But just as I was settling in for what I thought was going to be a great multigenerational tale, the story suddenly took a turn for the worse and began a nonstop race through the ensuing decades, abandoning all hope for a complex saga, peopled with unforgettable characters. Instead, one is rushed forward through the years, and large chunks of time are left to the imagination. The author makes use of the occasional flashback, bringing the reader up-to-date on the lives of various characters, but I soon lost track of several key figures, and was forced to flip back-and-forth to reacquaint myself with their genealogy. As a result, I never really came to care about them as I did their parents (or grandparents).

I won't dismiss this new-to-me author based solely on this disappointing book, especially since I did enjoy the first few chapters. I have a copy of Spiderweb in my stacks and am curious to see if it's any better. I'm also open to recommendations, if anyone has a favorite or two by
Penelope Lively.

Favorite Passages:

They moved into the cottage three weeks later, having spent much of their small capital, and some of Lorna's nest egg, on essential furnishings and equipment. They had two armchairs with sagging springs, a deal table, kitchen chairs, a bed, a couch, an array of unmatching crockery, some worn floor coverings. A primus stove, a slop pail, a chamber pot. Two packing cases to double as tables and storage areas. Hurricane lamps. They felt rich. Lorna was amazed to discover in herself some proprietorial instinct. She had never cared tuppence about the trappings of her room at Brunswick Gardens; now, she cherished each of these unassuming effects. She loved the rag rugs they had found in a jumble sale, the patchwork bedcover from a flea market, the Victorian jug and basin that had cost a sinful five shillings in an antique shop. She had a chipped brown pitcher, which she filled with great sprays of scarlet hips and haws from the hedgerows; she wrestled with the old range, and produced her first triumphant meals; she washed their clothes in the big copper that was in the shed and pinned them to the line. When they pushed their bikes up the hill from the village and she saw the solid little outline of the cottage ahead, she thought: home.


It sometimes seemed to Molly that the library was a place of silent discord and anarchy, its superficial tranquility concealing a babel of assertion and dispute. 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 pushing a product. As for autobiography... And all this is just fine. That is the function of the 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. If the library were to speak, Molly felt, if it were to speak with a thousand tongues, there would be a deep collective growl coming from the core collection upon the high shelves, where the voices of the nineteenth century would be setting precedents, the bleats and cries of new opinion, new fashion, new style. The surface repose of a library is a cynical deception.


  1. Anonymous7:32 AM

    I'm always particularly disappointed when a book doesn't live up to its obvious potential. It feels like some sort of important opportunity has been missed, because it isn't like it can be taken back and done over.

  2. Anonymous12:12 PM

    What a bummer that you didn't enjoy it more. I have this one on my TBR list but don't know when I'll ever get to it.

  3. There again, is a cover promising more than a book can possibly deliver. Generational books are so very tricky. It takes a real master to be able to pull them off, and give each age group its due. Nice review, Les.

  4. Heather - I agree. But to be honest, all I knew going into this book was that the cover was intriguing. It's not as if I'd heard great things about the novel. Oh,well.

    Iliana - Have you read anything by her? I'm certainly willing to give her another try.

    Nan - I know, I know! I'm just going to have to stop looking at the covers and read more about the content before I assume that the cover is indicative of a great read. I agree about the generational thing. I should have realized the book wasn't quite thick enough to encompass three generations.with the finesse of Pilcher, Rutherford, etc.


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