First Chapter, First Paragraph

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or planning to read soon.

This week I’m featuring Cleopatra’s Sister by Penelope Lively.

Howard Beamish became a palaeontologist because of a rise in the interest rate when he was six years old. His father, a cautious man with a large mortgage, announced that the projected family holiday to the Costa Brava was no longer feasible. A chalet was rented on the north Somerset coast instead and thus, on a dank August afternoon, Howard picked up an ammonite on Blue Anchor Beach.

He presented it to his parents. ‘What’s this?’

It’s a stone,’ said his father, who was listening to the test match.

‘No, it isn’t,’ retorted Howard, an observant child.

‘It’s a fossil, dear,’ said his mother. ‘That’s a very old sort of stone.’

‘Why?’ persisted Howard after a few moments. The single word embraced a vast range of query, for which he did not have the language.

His mother, too, paused to consider and was also defeated, though for different reason. She evaded the issue by offering Howard a tomato sandwich, which he accepted with enthusiasm while continuing to pore over the ammonite. During the rest of the afternoon, he collected five more fossil fragments, including one embedded in a slab of rock weighing several pounds.

Penelope Lively is one of my favourite authors, so I’m expecting to enjoy this book. I’ve quoted more than the first paragraph as I loved the conversation between Howard and his parents and the description of the scene on the beach as Howard ate his tomato sandwich and collected fossils. It shows the influence of chance on our lives – and I’m also fascinated by fossils.


Detached and unwordly paleontologist Howard Beamish is on a journey that is to change his life. Travelling to Nairobi, his plane is forced to land in Marsopolis, the capital of Callimbia, where Cleopatra’s sister entertained Antony. Also on the flight is Lucy Faulkner, a journalist with a sketchy knowledge of Callimbia’s political turbulence. As chance throws them together, Howard and Lucy become embroiled in a revolution that is both political and personal.

‘Every sentence is a pleasure to read’ Sunday Express

‘A fluent, funny, ultimately moving romance in which lovers share centre stage with Lively’s persuasive meditations on history and fate. . .a book of great charm with a real intellectual resonance at its core’ The New York Times Book Review

What do think – would you read on?

First Chapter, First Paragraph

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

I’m just about to start reading Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively. It won the Booker Prize in 1987.

It begins:

I’m writing a history of the world.’ she says. And the hands of the nurse are arrested for a moment; she looks down at this old woman, this ill old woman. ‘Well, my goodness, the nurse says. ‘That’s quite a thing to be doing, isn’t it?’ And then she becomes busy again, she heaves and tucks and smooths – ‘Upsy a bit, dear, that’s a good girl – then we’ll get you a cup of tea.’


Claudia Hampton – beautiful, famous, independent, dying.

But she remains defiant to the last, telling her nurses that she will write a ‘history of the world . . . and in the process, my own’. And it is her story from a childhood just after the First World War through the Second and beyond. But Claudia’s life is entwined with others and she must allow those who knew her, loved her, the chance to speak, to put across their point of view. There is Gordon, brother and adversary; Jasper, her untrustworthy lover and father of Lisa, her cool conventional daughter; and then there is Tom, her one great love, found and lost in wartime Egypt.

What do you think?

Would you keep reading?

Heat Wave by Penelope Lively

I’ve read quite a lot of Penelope Lively’s books and have found them full of interest, easily readable, peopled with believable characters and covering various philosophical and moral issues that make me think. Heat Wave (first published in 1996) is no different in that it is about relationships, the connections between the past and the present, love, marriage and adultery, jealousy, anger, grief and loss.

However, I groaned when I began reading it because it is in the present tense and I’m not that keen on that. But as I read on, my irritation with the tense began to fade away as I became engrossed in the story. It’s quite a simple one really, the strength of the book, I think, coming from the characterisation, the increasing tension and the oppressive atmosphere of a blazing hot summer.

Pauline, a freelance copy-editor, is spending the summer at her cottage, somewhere in the middle of England. Her daughter, Teresa, grandson, Luke and son-in-law Maurice are next door in the adjoining cottage, whilst Maurice concentrates on finishing the book he is writing. They are visited by James and Carol, who accompany them on visits to tourist attractions to help with the research for his book. As Pauline sees the relationship between Teresa and Maurice change, apparently following the same pattern of her own failed marriage, she becomes increasingly anxious and angry, unable to intervene.

In just 184 pages, Penelope Lively builds an in depth study of angst, frustration and conflict, set against the changing landscape of the countryside, the effect of the heat on the land, the crops and the people. Interspersed are her trips to London, her long-standing and now platonic friendship with Hugh, her conversations with one of the authors whose book she is editing and who is also struggling with his marriage, and the family’s visits to tourist attractions as part of Maurice’s research for his book. So alongside the personal relationships Heat Wave also looks at the countryside, how it is changing, our relationship to nature and how farming has changed because of industrialisation and tourism.

I love the descriptions of the countryside that Pauline sees through her window, just one example:

A light wind ruffles the field – shadows course across the young wheat. The whole place is an exercise in colour, as it races into growth. The trees are green flames and the hedges billow brilliantly across the landscape. The old hedgerow at the bottom of the garden has a palette that runs from cream through lemon yellow and all the greens to apricot, russet and a vivid crimson. Each burst of new leaf adds some subtle difference to the range. For a couple of weeks the whole world glows. (page 24)

But this is not just an idealised view of the countryside; she also notes the unnatural discordant sight of fields of dead grass as a result of the policy of set-aside, the industrialisation of agriculture, and the nasty, glaring yellow of oil-seed rape seen by some as an intrusive blight.

What irritated me when I began reading the book, paled into insignificance as the tension between the characters grew, culminating in an inevitable climax as the hot weather ended and a violent thunder storm broke over the cottages. I ended up loving this book.

Heat Wave is my 28th book for Bev’s Mount TBR 2016 challenge and the 6th book for the  20 Books of Summer Challenge.

Library Loot

library-lootI went to the library this week just to return some books and had no intention of borrowing any more as I don’t think I’ll be able to finish the ones I’ve already got out before we leave the area.

But I made the mistake of looking at the first display stand, which contained some very short books in the Open Door series. I hadn’t come across these books before. They are by Irish writers and all the royalties from the sales go to a charity of the author’s choice. I chose The Builders by Maeve Binchy. The royalties go to Our Lady’s Hospice, Harold’s Cross, Dublin. From the back cover:

With family complications and crooked property developers things are about to get very messy.

 I have a feeling it’s going to be too short.

Next I wandered over to the fiction, looking for more slim books and picked up The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith. I’ve been wanting to read this for years. It’s Mr Pooter’s diary first published in book form in 1822, a record of

…the daily grind in respectable suburbia and the City office. It tells of his constant war against insolvent tradesmen and impudent juniour clerks, his incomprehensible, irrepressible son Lupin, and his overwhelming feeling that the biggest joke is on him. It is both entirely fictional and transcentally true.

Inevitably I was drawn to longer books and chose City of the Mind by Penelope Lively, one of my favourite authors. According to the book jacket this is a

… wonderfully rich and audacious confrontation with the mystery of London, with the buried lives that make us what we are …

I hope I don’t have to return them unread.

As I shan’t be going there for much longer I’m posting a photo of the oustide of my local library.

Library exterior