It might be called the “Butterfly Effect.” One day Charlotte is mugged. Her hip is severely damaged, and she is compelled to move into her daughter, Rose’s, home for recovery. This act causes a chain of events that would not have happened otherwise, and the lives of several people — not all even known to Charlotte — are changed forever.
After she is consigned to Rose and her husband’s home, Charlotte’s pupil Anton (she teaches English as a second language) is brought to her since she cannot go to him. Rose and Anton find they are deeply attracted to one another and soon begin an affaire de coeur.
Meanwhile, because Rose cannot accompany her employer Henry to a speaking engagement (she must care for her mother in the immediate aftermath), Marion, his niece, is pressed into service. It is on this trip that Marion meets a man who offers her a lucrative contract to design homes, then promptly disappears, leaving Marion with steep remodeling bills.
Because Marion comes to escort Henry at the last minute, she forgets his speech (as Rose would never have done) and Henry — a man of infinite vanity — humiliates himself in front of his peers. Thus Henry begins a quest for redemption by writing his memoirs, imagining that they would be of interest to the scholarly community.
Penelope Lively has written a charming tale of interweaving lives that are inexorably changed in an instant. The stories are seen as more capricious than planned. Book clubs will love the subtle humor, rich writing, and discussion of destiny versus chance.
Viking/Penguin; ISBN 978-0-67002-344-8; $26.95