Magazine article The Spectator

The Ripple Effect

Magazine article The Spectator

The Ripple Effect

Article excerpt

How It All Began

by Penelope Lively

Fig Tree, £16.99, pp. 248,

ISBN 9781905490882

Penelope Lively's new novel traces the consequences of a London street mugging. As the culprit sprints away with a handbag, the victim, Charlotte, a retired widow, falls and cracks her hip. Her daughter, Rose, personal assistant to the once-eminent historian Lord Peters, is meant to be in Manchester to help her employer give a talk on Walpole.

When Rose bails out, Peters turns to his own daughter, Marion, an interior designer in hock to the bank. At the pre-talk lunch, she has the good fortune, so it seems, to meet a venture capitalist, who offers her a gig doing up luxury flats. Less fortunate is her married lover, Jeremy, whose wife kicks him out when she spots a text on his mobile from Marion, cancelling a tryst on account of having to head north.

An all - seeing narrator inhabits every point of view in this gentle carousel of middle-class life. Old age, middle age and youthful ambition (a post-doctoral striver pens a monograph while pretending to sort out Peters' papers) are each portrayed more or less warmly, as are diverse professional habitats, from a building site to the Beeb.

Little is immune to shafts of satire, even if the female characters tend to be safer than the men, whose egomania is generally hung out to dry. Jeremy, always oblivious to the sound of his own voice, boasts of how he fired an underling and took on 'a boy as work experience, so I needn't pay him at all'. …

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