The dust jacket on Consequences, by Penelope Lively (Key Porter), bills the novel as “a sweeping saga of three generations of women and the consequences of love and life”—the sort of talk one expects to find on a good, thick bodice-ripper. But there the resemblance ends. The story starts in 1935, on a bench in St. James’s Park, London, where Lorna “was crying because she had had a violent argument with her mother; Matt was feeding the wildfowl in order to draw them.” With passion and precision, but none of the tedious “detail” that clogs so much contemporary fiction, Lively draws the reader through the next seventy years of connections and fallings-apart that flow from that chance meeting on a park bench. She gives us the irresistible, star-crossed lovers Lorna and Matt, then shifts the narrative to their daughter, Molly, who happens to pick up a discarded copy of the Evening Standard in the tube, glances at Situations Vacant, sees that the Literary and Philosophical Institute ( “the Lit. and Phil.”) is looking for a library assistant and meets the man who will eventually father her daughter, Ruth. Years later, at age forty-three, Molly ponders the fact that she is no longer young: “Youth had whisked by while she sold books and made books and changed nappies and wheeled Ruth in a pushchair on the last leg of an Aldermarston march and wore miniskirts and took the pill, which had arrived just too late to scupper Ruth’s conception, thank God.” The love of her life arrives by chance somewhat later, and now the story changes hands again, to Ruth, who hooks up with Peter, and moves into a flat with him and buys furniture. When she gets pregnant, Peter is dismayed: “ ‘One was thinking later rather than sooner, I suppose.’ For a brief and disquieting moment they stared at one another across some treacherous divide. Then Peter gathered himself and suggested a glass of champagne to celebrate. The champagne made Ruth feel even more queasy than she already was; he drank too much and later that evening they had an argument about the installation of a shower unit.” Oh, dear. Ruth too has to grow up a bit more to comprehend the possibilities of love. For her the tide changes when she happens to drop into a small art gallery on her way to buy a takeout coffee. And so on. “Every conception is fortuitous, every birth,” Lively writes. Both the content of the book and the title—like her other titles (Making It Up, Passing On, Corruption, Heat Wave and others)—embrace all the meaning of the word consequence, from result or effect, to social distinction, to significance or importance.