20 April 2016

Consequences by Penelope Lively

A love story set during World War II in the hands of Penelope Lively...well, it's bound to be good, isn't it.  Something I didn't expect though is this book's epic scale.  At just over 250 pages my impression was that this story would encompass all the stereotypes of rationing, evacuees, air raids, and emotional upheaval within the time frame of the 1940s.  In Consequences, Penelope Lively follows a nuclear family through future generations up to just past the year 2000.  The constant in the story, albeit at times as a memory, is a small rustic cottage in Somerset that is two centuries old.

Lorna and Matt meet on a bench in St, James's Park.  It's 1935 and Matt is sketching birds as a commission for a book.  Lorna stays away from her parents' white-terraced home in London's Brunswick Gardens to avoid talk of her future.  She's always been attracted to the idea of a bohemian lifestyle and fills the walls of her bedroom with art.  Her parents want what's best for her which means marriage to an Oxford-educated man.  Matt couldn't be further from their ideal portrayal of a future son-in-law with his working class upbringing near the Welsh border.  Lorna and Matt weigh their options and decide to elope. Setting out to find a tranquil space to nest and paint they discover the cottage...

'Square and squat, cob and thatch, dug solid into the red Somerset earth, the small building had seen out generations of farm laborers.  People had been born here, died here, had heard rumors of wars, had achieved the vote, had sweated over the same patch of landscape and stared at the same sky.  Now, the place stood empty, bar the mice and the black beetles and the spiders.  Empty, and two pounds a month.'

The toilet is outdoors and there's no running water.  I couldn't wait to find out how dedicated Lorna was to her dream of a bohemian life, but I have to hand it to her...she copes brilliantly.  Matt paints frescoes on the walls that in my mind's eye looked a bit like art by Eric Ravilious.  Soon, a baby girl comes along, and so does the war.  Matt packs a bag, answering the call to duty.  I was crushed when I turned to the front leaf and found out that Matt is killed.  Sorry! but it's right there for all to see early on.

What follows is Lorna's wonderful spirit and ability to wade through adversity with the help of those who love her.  She smiles at the independent nature of her daughter, Molly, and marvels at the changing times.  Molly goes on to admire those same character traits in her own daughter, Ruth.  Long gone are the days of little choice for women.  This new order rings the changes in more tolerance of homosexuality, birth control, less concern about class structure, pregnancy outside of marriage, and divorce.

As a personal aside, there is a description of Molly's short career as a librarian's assistant from a 1960s persepctive that I am going to photocopy and hand to my branch manager.  Discussing banned books is outrageous, Trustees look down very long noses, and the circulation area is referred to as the 'issue' desk.

Penelope Lively admirably takes the reader through through sixty years of history with crafty leaps of season and hormonal milestones.  And while I initially chose to read Consequences for its World War II theme, the fact that the story veered off in another direction ended up being something quite wonderful.

Sussex Landscape by Eric Ravilious
1931

7 comments:

  1. It's been sp long since I've read her! Thank you for the reminder... (and the Ravilious!)

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    1. You're welcome, Audrey! This is a guaranteed good read so if you're ever at loose ends for something to read...

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  2. Thank you for reminding me of one of these books I've been meaning to bring home from the library for ages. We always had an issue desk until it was replaced by machines and a very small enquiries desk

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    1. This is one of those books that I often see on the discount table at bookshops and you just want to announce to everyone...'this is a REALLY good read!'.
      Machines really aren't that lovely when it comes to a smile and chat but they're at my library too *sigh*.

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  3. This was the book that introduced me to Lively and turned me into a lifelong fan. Thank you for reminding me of how wonderful it is. I might need to pull it down off the bookshelf for a reread before too long.

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    1. And my copy of Moon Tiger is languishing...for why?, as Simon would say.
      I'm a lifelong fan now too!

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  4. Great article, It is emotional and lovely and caring story. World war time is tough time for everyone.
    oswaal books for class 6

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