I am reading an old Penelope Lively book – How It All Began – a comforting light read as I try to avoid the news and politics. Charlotte, an older woman, falls after she is mugged and breaks her hip. This one action triggers a series of events affecting her family and strangers she has never met, seven overall – the butterfly effect rippling through lives. Lively reminds the reader how little control we have over everything.
As the the catalyst for a cast of characters with a range of emotions and experiences as their lives are derailed, Charlotte rallies, recovers, and continues with a constructive life as Lively’s chapters consider those around her. Charlotte’s fall requires her to move in with her daughter and son-in-law, Rose and Gerry, which leads to Rose taking time off from her job with an old historian, which leads to her boss asking his niece, Marion, to accompany him on a lecture trip, which leads to Marion’s leaving a message for her married lover, which leads his wife to discover the message and file for divorce. And so it goes – a series of sometimes unfortunate events.
Charlotte is a retired English teacher, and her wise pronouncements sometimes seem worth noting for future reference. As she convalesces, she notes how her circumstances have changed her reading habits to magazines and, horrors, pulp novels, until finally when she is able to read a Henry James novel again, she considers herself on the road to recovery. I am not a fan of Henry James, but I did find her book, What Maisie Knew, in my library system – and maybe I’ll read it, but I doubt it.
Penelope Lively’s characters follow life’s chaos and uncertainties, a comfort to all of us living in that inevitable vein. Lively was a children’s book author before writing novels for adults and her first book, the children’s novel Astercote (1970) is about modern English villagers who fear a resurgence of the medieval plague – seems timely with the recent outbreak of a deadly virus from China. I’ve ordered the book from my library.
Other books I have been reading:
Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths
Famous for her Ruth Galloway mystery series, Elly Griffiths new book – Stranger Diaries – has none of her familiar characters but this stand alone mystery seemed familiar. I was sure I had read the book before and even knew the murderer, but I was wrong on both counts. I was sure she was the murderer, but she was not.
The Key by Patricia Wentworth
A 1946 paperback with browned pages, some taped back together, turned out to be a great story. When Michael Harsch is found dead (soon after he finally perfected his formula for the government) in the church behind a locked door with a key in his pocket, the mystery begins. The inquest rules suicide but Miss Silver knows it is a murder, but who did it? Despite its age, the mystery had a modern twist and held my attention throughout.
The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith
If you are a fan of the irreverent “Good Place” series, you will relish Hackwith’s Library of the Unwritten. A librarian who was human but didn’t make it past the pearly gates, Claire oversees books not yet written; the library is in hell. When one character escapes from his book to meet with his author on Earth, and another soul offers stolen pages from the devil’s Coda in exchange for living among the angels, the action starts, and never falters. An exciting ride through different worlds where the devils are more fun and the angels tend to be judgmental and arrogant, the book swerves through lives and characters. Noting the cautionary note to all procrastinating authors (me included) – “there’s nothing an unwritten book wants more than to be written” – I listened to the book on Audible and found myself speeding up the narrative to get to the next chapter.
AND FINALLY –
Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It? – A Mother’s Suggestions by Patricia Marx and Roz Chast
Skip the introduction and go immediately to the one-liners With Roz Chast’s illustrations for motherly advice you can use. Here are a few:
- Never do anything you can pay someone to do.
- If you feel guilty about throwing out the leftovers, put them in the back of your refrigerator for five days and then throw them out.
- When it comes to raising children, nothing beats bribery.
- Resist the temptation to buy clothes on your skinniest days.
I am listening to a scary story on Audible – Lisa Gardner’s When You See Me. Scary stories tend to keep my attention when listening, and this one started with a Mexican woman and her daughter in dire straits (before American Dirt was published).