How It All Began – Penelope Lively

How It All Began - Penelope LivelyA chance find on the Walton bookshelves, I suspect this was one of the books we inherited from Janet or John at the caravan. Just right for a blustery Bank Holiday Monday and ensuing working week.

We spend a few months in the company of multiple Londoners, born, bred and immigrant, whose lives are all affected by the random mugging of 77 year old Charlotte. An exploration of the butterfly effect and the characters that inhabit modern middle class London.

Author page: How It All Began – Penelope Lively

The Sweet Dove Died – Barbara Pym

The Sweet Dove Died - Barbara Pym
The Sweet Dove Died – Barbara Pym

Barbara Pym was a Kate Macdonald tip. A good one.

In The Sweet Dove Died, Pym strikes me as a more acerbic version of Tessa Hadley, Penelope Lively, Margaret Forster, with a period setting a generation or two earlier as Leonora, a lady of a certain age, dallies with two West London antiques dealers – handsome young James and his rather more portly but prosperous uncle Humphrey.

Publisher page: The Sweet Dove Died – Barbara Pym

Georgy Girl – Margaret Forster

Georgy Girl - Margaret Forster
Georgy Girl – Margaret Forster

Georgy Girl completely confounded my preconceptions – in fact there was a wholesale misunderstanding of the theme and plot on my part! Yes, there’s a baby and a single mum, but it’s not Cathy Come Home.

Georgina – George – shares her 1960s beatnik Battersea flat with self centred violinist Meredith, and her current lover, and fellow musician Jos. Downtrodden George spends her life running around after them, cooking, cleaning, entertaining, paying.

George has what we could call “low self esteem”, and continuously compares herself unfavourably to glamorous gazelle Meredith and indulges in unrequited love for Jos.

Her parents are live in domestic servants for the wealthy West Londoner Leamingtons, where Ted is James Leamington’s besotted valet, and her mother is the family housekeeper and cook.

George herself is a surrogate daughter to James, although we never really learn Mrs Ls thoughts on the matter. He’s funded George’s private education, music and dancing lessons and has converted a large room in the Leamington’s presumably large London house to serve as George’s dance school.

Everything changes when Meredith tells Jos that she’s pregnant as that she wants to keep the baby “this time”; and James asks George to become his mistress.

Publisher page: Georgy Girl – Margaret Forster

The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer

The Shock of the Fall - Nathan Filer
The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer

The death of his elder brother Simon while on family holiday triggers Matt’s schizophrenia.

The Shock of the Fall is his account of the last years of his childhood and his teenage descent into mental illness.

En route we see the impact on his mum, who never recovers from Simon’s death, and on friends and family who struggle to find ways to help no matter strong and unquestioning their love – his dad’s and Nanny Noo’s in particular.

Lots of stark reality.

Lots of tearjerker moments.

Author’s page: The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer

The Other – David Guterson

The Other - David Guterson
The Other – David Guterson

Neil Countryman and John William Barry meet as teens on the running track. John William comes from Seattle’s old money and founding families, Neil is from the other side of the tracks. They develop a love of the outdoors, which for John William results in him becoming, for a time, the Hermit of the Hof.

A novel that I find my brain returns to ponder periodically.

Publisher page: The Other – David Guterson

Review: Escape from the unhappiness machine – Giles Foden, The Guardian, 18 Oct 2008