When Charlotte Rainsford, a retired schoolteacher, is accosted by a petty thief on a London street, the consequences ripple across the lives of acquaintances and strangers alike. A marriage unravels after an illicit love affair is revealed through an errant cell phone message; a posh yet financially strapped interior designer meets a business partner who might prove too good to be true; an old-guard historian tries to recapture his youthful vigor with an ill-conceived idea for a TV miniseries; and a middle-aged central European immigrant learns to speak English and reinvents his life with the assistance of some new friends.

Through a richly conceived and colorful cast of characters, Penelope Lively explores the powerful role of chance in people’s lives and deftly illustrates how our paths can be altered irrevocably by someone we will never even meet.

My Thoughts: From the very first page of How It All Began, we are caught up in a series of events, beginning with the mugging of Charlotte Rainsford, and rippling forward to people she knows…and then to total strangers.

How we can all be connected by an event was a fascinating exploration. I liked how the author showed us the various characters as they meandered down the pathways that were affected by this one seemingly irrelevant moment in one woman’s life.

There was Rose, Charlotte’s daughter, who takes her in after the mugging and whose life is changed.

Another random connection occurs when Rose’s boss Henry asks his niece Marion to attend a luncheon with him when Rose cannot. A text Marion sends to Jeremy, a married lover, upends his marriage.

Numerous vignettes that spotlight how these several lives are changed kept my interest up, and while the story was not one I loved, I definitely enjoyed it. 4 stars.