Aging done well
Charlotte Rainsford's mugging on a London street impacts several people, including some unknown to her, in veteran British author Penelope Lively's well written and charming new novel, How it all Began. Charlotte, a widow and retired school teacher, has lived independently until this event. She now must reluctantly depend on her daughter and son-in-law for care when she moves in with them temporarily to recuperate from her injuries.
Daughter Rose has raised two children and seems comfortable but somewhat disengaged from her husband. She is employed as a part time assistant to the elderly Lord Henry Peters, who still considers himself a formidable scholar and is involved in writing "My Memoirs." Traditional British ways prevail in his household, from the food to the furnishings and to his manner of dress. These things do not change after an opportunistic young graduate student arrives in the household, ostensibly to assist, but actually seeking information to further his own career. Meanwhile Anton, one of Charlotte's ESL students, strikes up a friendship with Rose that has the potential to end Rose's marriage. And there is also Marion, Henry's niece who has been having an affair with a married man, and who is having financial problems in her business.
Lively deftly juggles all of these characters and expertly depicts aging and the losses that go along with it. She is 84 and so perhaps has some firsthand experience. Her two oldest characters both reflect on their pasts and are attempting to adapt to their various infirmaties. This is far from an action novel but it is a clever book with droll humor and well-developed characters. I recommend choosing this one over Death Comes to Pemberley, by another grand dame of English literature P.D. James. Lively is at her best here and I found the latest James book to be a disappointment (as did my fellow MADreads reviewer Katie).