can almost smell the wood smoke and taste the tea and biscuits in
Penelope Lively's CONSEQUENCES, so eloquent and emotionally direct
are all its elements. The characters, the prose, and the tragic but
uplifting story of three generations of women --- from World War II
to the present in a Britain that continues to redefine itself ---
is a wonderful literary achievement.
The story begins with Lorna and Matt, a rich, sensible girl who has
grown up with all the privileges of polite society and a Welsh man
whose country upbringing somehow has led him to London to study
art. A chance meeting on a park bench brings them together, and
against all odds and the fears of their parents, they forge a life
in the country. This turns out to be an idyll, regardless of the
fact that they have no running water or the other amenities they're
both used to. Their adventure in the country proves to be inspiring
for Matt and happy for Lorna.
But as the specter of World War II sounds its sirens across the
beautiful landscape, Matt and Lorna bring a baby, Molly, into their
midst. Suddenly, the three of them are a family in crisis. Matt is
shipped off to war and tragedy ensues. Molly is eventually left
living with a kindly stepfather and making her own way into the
world. So we follow her into the madness that is postwar England.
Her own encounter with a wealthy older man from London leads her
into the modern-day world. Molly's own daughter, saddled with the
echoes of regret and sadness that have shaped the lives of her
family's women, goes back to those halcyon days of her
grandmother's early marriage to try to resolve the conflicts and
emotional baggage that bogs down the three generations throughout
the turbulent eras in which they spread out.
Penelope Lively is a thoroughly modern writer, but the memories of
England's great catastrophes are reflected quite surely in the
stories of these three fully-fleshed characters and the men who
surround them. CONSEQUENCES shares some of its tragic whimsy with
great works like Noel Coward's BRIEF ENCOUNTER and THE CHRONICLES
OF NARNIA by C.S. Lewis, literary masterpieces that employed the
backdrop of the war to put the history of their beloved country
into a new context, using love and fantasy as the ramps. The book
speaks to any generation plagued by war and conflict, and surely
deserves an audience today that can relate to its heartrending
twists and turns.
As love hurtles these women into new lives filled with both hope
and tragedy, so does CONSEQUENCES hurtle us into bright and shining
hearts filled with the positive message that, even in bad times,
life can go on --- and smashingly so.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on December 28, 2010