Mothers and Daughters: Three Generations of Consequences

“They met on a bench in St. James’s Park; it was the 6th of June 1935. Lorna was crying because she had had a violent argument with her mother; Matt was feeding the wildfowl. … He looked sideways, and was done for.”

St. James

  And (to borrow a phrase from another Penelope Lively title) that’s how it all begins.  Matt and Lorna fall in love, marry, move to a rural cottage on the outskirts of nowhere without running water, heat or any amenity at all (which Lorna loves despite her upper class background).  Matt supports them with his art for which he finds a publisher.  And he paints their walls with with the scene of the park, the “tumbling willows, the rippling water” and the ducks.  Upstairs in the bedroom, he paints “Dancing figures.  Pink.  Nude, but discretely so.  Male and female.  Who hold out their arms to one another, link arms, swirl around the walls of the room.”

Matt goes to war, Lorna gives birth to Molly, Molly gives birth to Ruth, Ruth gives birth to Jess and some fifty or so years later, a post-divorce Ruth rediscovers the (Matisse-like) paintings.

Ruth was amazed, transfixed.  It was as though the room were filled with life — a mysterious, silent Matissecelebratory life that danced on and on, had done so ever since . . . ever since they were here.  Him and Her.  Matt and Lorna.  She felt a rush of happiness, a burst of joy, as though something flowed through time, from then to now, from them to herself.  She turned to Brian with a great smile, and saw that he too was beaming; for a moment they seeme
d to be compact, an alliance of delight.

He said, “Aren’t they wonderful?  Every morning, they remind me that life is to be enjoyed.”

She said, “My mother was born in here.”

     Dame Penelope Lively has twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize; once in 1977 for her first novel, The Road to Lichfield, and again in 1984 for According to Mark. She later won the 1987 Booker Prize for her novel Moon Tiger. According to Penguin, her publisher, she has one daughter, one son and four grandchildren.  She was born in 1933, and though not old enough to have experienced romance at Lorna’s age, she has lived through each of the generations about which she writes in Consequences.  No less than Ursula K. Le Guin reviewed the novel for London’s The Guardian.  As Ms. Le Guin points out, Consequences treads much of the same ground in other Lively novels.  In other novels in general.  England.  WW2.  The blitz.  The Swinging 60s.  But her story-telling is impeccable and the generational quality of this novel adds the warp and weft of a beautiful family quilt.

Years later, she would think that you do not so much make decisions, as stumble in a certain direction because something tells you that that is the way you must go.  You are impelled, by some confusion of instinct, will, and blind faith.  Reason does not much come into it.  If reason ruled, you would not leave home in the morning, lest you stepped under a bus; you would not try, for fear of failure; you would not love, in case it hurt.

Years later, that time has lost all chronology; it is a handful of scenes that replay from time to time.

     And this is as fine a summary of the book as any I could do.  It is a handful of scenes, snapshots of time and people that connect to create interwoven lives and consequences.


  Near the end of the book, Ruth has a fateful dinner with Brian.  The menu from that dinner would make a fine one for a book club discussion.

Green salad


Lamb Chops

    My grandmother taught me to make mashed potatoes.  You peel the potatoes then put them in water to cover the potatoes.  Boil down, WITHOUT BURNING, the potatoes so that the water is absorbed.  Mash with the electric mixer, adding salt, pepper, butter and cream (or half and half) until the potatoes are smooth.  Place in a casserole dish and pepper the top.  Put a large pat of butter in the middle and heat when you are ready to serve.

Here’s a Giada de Laurentiis recipe for grilled lamb chops that looks good:

  I would serve English biscuits for dessert.  I love the McVities chocolate covered digestives and found them recently in the foreign food section of Kroger.  They pair very nicely with Caramel Ice Cream.


From WW2 to 1980s; from England to Greece.  The options are huge.  Here are some songs I thought of while reading.

I’ll Be Seeing You, Frank Sinatra

The White Cliffs of Dover, Vera Lynn

A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, Vera Lynn

Downtown, Petula Clark

She Loves You, The Beatles

Moonlight Serenade, Glenn Miller Orchestra



2 thoughts on “Mothers and Daughters: Three Generations of Consequences

  1. Pingback: Mothers and Daughters: Three Generations of Consequences | daeandwrite

  2. Pingback: Mother’s Day Books | daeandwrite

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