When I first read Consequences by Penelope Lively in 2009 I liked it so much I gave it a 9 on my 10-point scale. Just one point off being an all-time favorite. Having just finished listening to the audio version I’m not just reminded of how much I like the book but I am inclined to upgrade it to a full 10 out of 10. In fact, liked it so much that I decided to write this post as soon as the narrator said “The end.” (I’m not sure she actually did, but you get the point.)
As is often my challenge, I have many things to say about a book but the thought of having to come up with some coherent, cogent review is beyond my patience and abilities. So, it’s time for another bulleted list.
- The book begins in 1934 when artist Matt meets Lorna on a park bench in London. The story ends with their 44 year-old granddaughter Ruth contemplating the balance of her life. In the middle is all the wonderful and tragic and thoughtful things that happen to them, their daughter/mother Molly, and their small, somewhat unconventional family.
- This one will appeal to the Bohemian in you. A woodblock artist, book maker, writers, librarian, gallery employee, arts administrator, and a poet all walk through the story at various points.
- Lively has the mind of an historian but also of an historiographer. She not only tends to pepper her novels with historical bits and bobs but she often explores how we know what we know about the past and contemplates more than a little about the effects of time and perspective on how we feel and understand things. But she is subtle about it and it never feels pedantic or preachy.
- Lively the person looks fairly conventional and perhaps even a little staid, but her characters are rarely so. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t wild and they tend not to do crazy or silly things but they burn with passions and determination that appeal to me. And she writes about sex, relationships, and faith (or lack thereof) in and open, and often progressive way but always on the decorous side.
- Despite the many tragedies that happen along the way, so many wonderful things happen as well. And for both the good and the bad there is the recurrent theme of how certain moments, some are choices, some are not choices lead to, um, consequences–outcomes, new trajectories, triumph and tragedy. Something that occurs in more than a few of her other novels as well, most notably perhaps, and most recently in How it All Began.
- There was a really wonderful story in Slate this week about Persephone Books and it got me to thinking just how perfectly Consequences would fit in with their catalog. (Now that I think of it they have already published Consequences the 1919 novel by E.M. Delafield.) I’ve often reduced the output of Persephone to being cozy, but after reading the Slate piece, I realize I have been selling them and the books short. They are about the domestic side of life for sure, but for as much as I like that kind of thing, I think I have been slightly dismissive of how important that is not just for my own pleasure but for chronicling and understanding civilization.
- Would do really well adapted to large or small screen. Although when looking up whether or not someone has already done so, I came across Ursula K LeGuin’s less than glowing review of the book in The Guardian in 2007. I won’t link to it.