'Consequences' – Penelope Lively


I blame Françoise, I really do – although I think I have already blamed her in part, along with  Brigitte and Claudine, once before on this blog (see = http://blueroomriversidedrive.blogspot.com.au/2013/01/a-blue-room-book-review-delphine-de.html) . Then it was for my attraction for all matters French – why I have even taken an intrigued interest in recent times as to which of Francois Hollande’s lovers is actually to be the first lady of the nation. It now seems the younger one has won out. This time around I am blaming Françoise for my devotion to a certain genre of writing that I struggle to give a name to. Let me explain. I have an attachment to books, written by female authors, in the main UK female authors, who concentrate on falling in and out of love, on affairs – that type of activity in their novels. Is there a genre appellation to cover what I read? Would ‘romance’ suffice? It would seem rather unmanly of me to read ‘romance,’ wouldn’t it? That word conjures up ‘Mills and Boon’ type stuff and I would hope what I read has a tad more literary merit, even if not quite in the ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ realm – but approaching that.

I cannot remember reading a complete oeuvre of a lady writer until I encountered Françoise during my uni days, over forty years ago now. I have no idea now what started me on those slim volumes you could pick up for less than a dollar back in those days of yore, but they were light, easily digestible – a salve to those weighty historical and political tomes of my enforced reading. I suppose there is a link to my yesteryear attraction to Ms Sagan and my love of French rom-coms today.

Once I was a bona fide contributor to the education of young people, with somewhat more cash in my pocket, I could branch out. I had been by now introduced to a new range of writers of the female persuasion who specialised in the travails of maintaining relationships in contemporary times. The coterie were headed by Andrea Newman, Margaret Drabble and Elizabeth Jane Howard – the recent passing of the latter saddening me. They produced works on the British middle to upper classes that I invariably found engrossing. Their mantle was passed on to the likes of Joanna Trollope, Caro Fraser, Amanda Brookfield, Angela Lambert, Sue Gee and Penelope Lively, amongst others. The term ‘aga saga’ was invented in the early 90s to describe the works of the first listed, but now loosely encompasses many more. It is defined as ‘being named for the AGA cooker, a type of stored-heat oven that came to be popular in medium to large country houses in the UK after its introduction in 1929. It refers primarily to fictional family sagas dealing with British middle-class country or village life.’ (Wikipedia) The latter author, Lively, it seems to me, has been around for ages and I have devoured most of her books. She is now eighty and still active.

Lively fits a great deal into ‘Consequences’. It appears a slimish volume but is three hundred pages or so in length – still, not much really to house the biographies of the three generations of women she crams in. Herein lies its only fault – this reader became so immersed in each protagonist’s journey that he didn’t enjoy leaving them to move on to the next. Still Lively adeptly segues from mother to daughter, commencing pre-war and finishing after the millennium had turned. There’s Laura, Molly and Ruth – all with great tales to tell over the novel’s eight parts. And, in the end, she brings it all deftly back to square one.

In my view Lively has always been a consummate wordsmith with her broad vocabulary embellishing her images with a sheen – be it life in a derelict rural cottage as the Blitz approaches, the vagaries of existence in a super-sized garret in the London of the 50s or in the adventures to be had touring a sun-blasted Crete in the search of the last resting place of a soldierly relative. Its all well-woven lovely, lovely stuff – about stuff that works out, about stuff that doesn’t – as is often the situation in real life. Like her other more recent offerings – ‘Passing On’, ‘Heatwave’, ‘Spider Web’ and ‘The Photograph’, I immensely enjoyed this saga published back in 2007. I intend catching up with her later offerings as well.


As a corollary to all this I once read everything a certain Mr Sparks wrote, even though my talented daughter kept telling me what he produced was total tosh. My beloved Kate will be amused to know that I now agree – that continuing to peruse him would be too unmanly – even for me!

Ms Lively’s website = http://www.penelopelively.net/

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