Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Penelope Lively is interested in the consequences of our behavior and of our choices. In fact, she has examined this theme at least three times in three different books; in Making it Up, in The Photograph, and now in Consequences.
In The Photograph, a woman dies and her husband finds among her papers an incriminating photograph that proves she had an affair. What are the consequences of his finding the photograph, and the consequences of the affair itself? Making it Up, which I wrote about back in 2006, examines Lively’s own paths not taken: In a series of connected short stories she considers what her life might have been like if she (or someone in her family) had made a different choice instead of the one they made.
The themes in Consequences are both more and less obvious than in these two earlier books. On the one hand, it’s called Consequences. Could she make the sign any larger, do you think? On the other hand, it’s a straightforward novel that you can read without thinking too hard about the device Lively is using. Two people meet when they end up on the same park bench because of choices they have each made earlier in the day. They marry and have a baby. The man dies in World War II – that is certainly a consequence of someone’s actions, though not directly of his own. The man’s death has lasting reverberations for his daughter’s life, and for her daughter’s. It’s a good read, though not a great one.
But I have to ask, what novel isn’t about consequences? You could discuss every book I’ve read recently from this same perspective. In fact, couldn’t you discuss most of literature with consequences in mind? Not to get too obvious, but the deaths of Romeo and Juliet were the consequences of the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets. Should Shakespeare have called the play Consequences? I’m kind of disappointed in Penelope Lively for her lack of imagination here. This is the same woman who gave us a book called Oleander, Jacaranda; now that is a book title!
(Book 44, 2009)