Chaos theory – the chain of events that commence with a seemingly random act is the basis for this novel.   Charlotte is mugged and breaks her hip, her daughter Rose is unable to accompany her employer to his lecture so his niece Marion must go instead.   Marion’s text message to her lover Jeremy is intercepted by Stella his wife and triggers the breakup of the marriage.   Seemingly small events have catastrophic and irrevocable results.

I found this novel to be utterly absorbing (in fact read it twice and marked with Post It flags all the quotes I wanted to note down) and especially the relationship between Charlotte and Rose.  

Charlotte is an avid reader who after her mugging is compelled to live with her daughter Rose and son-in-law Gerry.   She misses her house but more especially her books ” her familiar walls, lined with language”.  Reading is a vital part of Charlotte and remains so despite the broken hip and the after effects of a violent assault.   “Her life has been informed by reading.   She has read not just for distraction, sustenance, to pass the time, but she has read in a state of primal innocence, reading for enlightenment, for instruction even.  She has read to find out if things are the same for others as they are for her – then, discovering that frequently they are not, she has read to find out what it is that other people experience that she is missing.”

I loved the passages that described old age “You slide, in old age into a state of perpetual diffidence, of unspoken apology.   You walk more slowly than normal people, you are obliged to say ‘what?’ too often, others have to give up their seat on the bus to you, on train journeys you must ask for help with your absurdly small and light case.   There is a void somewhere in your head into which tip the most familiar names; President Obama went into it yesterday for all of five minutes, along with her over the road at home who has just sent a get well card from ‘Sue’ but what on earth is her other name?   You can use a computer, just about, and cope with a mobile, but with such slow deliberation that the watching young are wincing.”

And I empathise with Rose

“She felt nowadays these painful twinges of compunction where her mother was concerned.   Not just on account of the hip but the whole business of age, of what has happened to her, what happens, the way in which a person is pushed into another incarnation, becomes a different version of themselves.   Her old mother was still herself but she was diminished in some way, has lost emphasis, was not the figure of Rose’s childhood and youth and Rose felt in some irrational way guilty.”

I too feel the shifts in negotiation, mother versus daughter and wonder how this has come about.   Has Penelope Lively read my mind or has she personal first hand experience?   This is one book I lived as I read.