The cover image for Penelope Lively’s latest novel contains at least a couple of clues as to what might unfold inside. Atop the pile of books on the round occasional table in the bottom left of the frame, rests a copy of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (the airport thriller features briefly within as an amusing distraction) and below that lays a well-thumbed copy of Family Album, Lively’s previous novel.
Family Album unlocked the story of a single family, but more than that it chronicled the stifling conventions of class, the quiet desperation of secrets buried at the back of cupboards and the rancour of long-festering arguments. How It All Began offers more of the same and begins with the street mugging of an elderly lady, before Lively widens the lens to capture an ensemble of connected and disconnected characters.
Lively appears almost ridiculously sure-footed in her storytelling – there are occasional wobbles but these are only slight when they do arrive – and this complex dish of relationships, marriages and clandestine affairs is, more often than not, absorbing and easily consumed.