three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
30-Sept-Oct-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-ConsequencesIn this sweeping family saga, three generations of free-spirited Englishwomen eschew traditions and family expectations to seek love and fulfillment on their own terms. After a chance meeting, aristocratic Lorna discards her life of wealth and privilege to marry Matt, a penniless artist, in 1935. Their daughter, Molly, must choose between financial security and independence in the turbulent 1960s when the father of her child, a man she doesn’t love, asks her to marry him. Molly’s daughter, Ruth, leaves her own disappointing marriage in the 1980s and eventually finds hope and inspiration in the great love story of her grandparents.
Viking. 258 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0670038563

Newsday 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Consequences offers that rare experience of utter contentment, an experience that has nothing to do with whether what you’re reading is happy or sad, and everything to do with feeling that you’re in the hands of a master. … The word ‘consequences’ here is not meant as anything portentous or tragic—even though there are moments in the book that affected me so much I had to put it down before I could keep reading—but the course of life." Charles Taylor

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Consequences, despite its shadows, is also a joyous ever-widening dance. At is center shimmers the idea of resiliency, of the continuity of humankind as embodied in one family, shattered and reconstituted, fragile, stubborn, enduring." Nancy Kline

Toronto Globe and Mail 4 of 5 Stars
"Conjuring up people, places and events both public and private, it draws us into its magic circle, as if we were intimate friends, even family, of the lovers who people this beautifully written, finely constructed narrative. … There is so much to admire and enjoy in both the content and style of Consequences—including Lively’s virtuoso recreation of the temper and even the colloquialisms of the 1930s, the swinging ‘60s and Thatcherite 80’s—that it seems churlish to complain that the latter sections of the novel don’t quite sustain the magic of its opening." Janice Kulyk Keefer

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"The span of time covered in Consequences is that of Ms. Lively’s own life (she was born in 1933), and in her matchlessly spare prose she anatomizes the epochal changes that have transformed the English landscape and culture in those 70-odd years. Her greatest gift, though, is her ability to see beyond mere cultural ephemera and grasp the unchanging essences of life." Brooke Allen

Independent (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This is not a long novel but it has a certain richness and covers such a swathe of time that it feels as if you have absorbed a great deal. … Some of the male characters are sketchy but the three women—in many ways, one woman seen at different times—are sensitively portrayed." Carol Birch

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Consequences is an often beautiful novel of astute observations and admirable narrative restraint that ultimately just doesn’t take enough risks. … Lively makes a novelistic argument for having both the flame and security, but the universe she’s constructed to argue this feels too unrealistically tidy for the argument to convince." Margot Kaminski

Washington Post 1.5 of 5 Stars
"[Consequences] is a bit too sweeping to do justice to the generations involved, which pass before our eyes with something approaching Old Testament velocity. … A short list [of complaints] might include a style almost completely shorn of metaphor (and the enriched seeing that metaphor provides), a voice largely innocent of irony (and humor), an attraction to homogeneous blocks of characters … and, finally, a positive aversion to ambiguity, to the complexities and contradictions of human motivation, which are to mature literature what carbon is to life." Mark Slouka

Critical Summary

In spare, elegant prose, Booker Prize–winner Penelope Lively (Moon Tiger, 1987) examines the nature of happiness and romantic love against the fast-moving zeitgeist of 20th-century England. Lively’s characters are engaging and likable—so much so, in fact, that it can be difficult to let one generation go as the next takes center stage. A few critics lamented the swift pace and brevity of Lively’s 14th novel—a whirlwind of 70 years in 258 pages—but her painstaking plotting eases the reader through the different eras she so accurately describes. The magical, passionate story of Lorna and Matt may be the most captivating, but readers will no doubt be moved by the tales of all three generations.

Also by the Author

Moon Tiger (1987): * Booker Prize. On her deathbed, 76-year-old Claudia Hampton, haunted by the ghosts of her past, decides to compose a history of the world that uses her own life as a focal point.