Penelope Lively
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Buy *Consequences* by Penelope Lively online

Penelope Lively
272 pages
May 2008
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Consequences begins with a chance meeting in St. James Park. It's the sixth of June, 1935 when the well-bred Lorna Bradley, somewhat at odds with her circumstances, meets the working class Welsh artist Matt Faraday.

Crying because she's just had a violent argument with her mother, Lorna almost falls into the arms of Matt while he sits on a park bench feeding the wildfowl in order to draw them. Some time later they go to a teashop, where Lorna learns that Matt is an artist, primarily a wood engraver, but at the moment he's in service of a commission to illustrate a book on estuaries and waterways.

The attraction is instant, and they both easily fall in love. "Before, I had never in my life done anything useful, now there's a point to everything," says Lorna when she decides to marry Matt, intent to reject the set of rigid and age-old requirements of her family, convinced that love cannot be found in drawing rooms and at country house parties.

Their easy familiarity is a perfect fit as they flee London for a ramshackle cottage in rural Somerset, far from the rarified world of the wealthy Brunswick Gardens. Lorna, in particular, thrives on the primitive, spartan conditions that the cottage offers, and even with the birth of their daughter, Molly, nothing can assuage her love of her new life. Lorna sees herself as a new person so totally committed to Matt, and also to their best friend, Lucas, who has commissioned Matt's work through his small London-based publishing house, The Heron Press.

With the outbreak of the War, Lorna and Matt happily take refuge, both seeking consolation in the isolated beauty of the Somerset surroundings, and life undeniably goes on as the primroses come and the spring sunshine flows across the hills. Soon, however, tragedy strikes, and Lorna's world is turned into an awful reality with the certainties of the world she lives in suddenly thrust aside.

From here, the narrative moves back to London and to 1943, where London is battered, bloody, and brought to its knees. Molly grows older in this disheveled post-war world, with the rubble, darkness and an exhausted populace, "a landscape of bomb sites and houses with flapping tarpaulin roofs and boarded windows; households depleted by war, minus their men."

Suddenly it is the Sixties, and Molly, who has inherited her mother's independent streak, finds work at a library, confronting "the bunch of old stick in the muds" when she tries, without success, to promote change. After she realizes that marriage is not what she envisioned, she discovers a talent for entrepreneurial activity and flings herself into the world of arts administration, working tirelessly as she sets up poetry conferences around the country.

As the story plunges forwards, propelling itself into the Seventies and Eighties, Molly's daughter, Ruth, also becomes a mother but eventually succumbs to the demands of a distracted husband, ultimately weighed down by the requirements of marriage and the issues that it brings with its bigger mortgages and larger bills, the quietness of the marriage bed, and the squabbles that quickly ensue.

The world turns and time moves on. Matt, Lorna, Molly, Ruth, even Lucas stumble along in certain directions, each of them impelled by some confusion of instinct, will and blind faith, their lives defined by choices that are sometimes almost subliminal.

Lucas becomes "a quaint old fossil," a survivor of the early part of the century where "different folk once lived." Molly represents the changing social movement of the Sixties, and Ruth, who looks to the past and to Matt's artistic life, sees her own existence as peculiarly accidental, spun from the odd conjunction of her grandparents, two people whose unlikely meeting on a park bench began an impervious chain of events that eventually leads to her birth.

Moving between the bucolic surrounds of regional Somerset and the dizzying metropolis of London, Lively's prose shines as she seamlessly weaves each generation into the next, the events of the twentieth century serving both as a backdrop and a movie screen to the lives, loves and tragedies of these remarkable and very special people.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2007

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