Last time I read this book, Joanna Trollope had written it, and the title was Legacy of Love. Okay, I’m being flippant, but there is a Trollope book that links the love stories of three generations of women. And if Consequences is set more recently (the first section opens in the 1930s), Lively shares with Trollope a view of romantic love as a game-changing force. We start with upper-class Lorna who meets artist Matt on a bench in a London park. Her daughter Molly doesn’t meet her Great Love until mid-life, and Molly’s daughter Ruth shares a similar fate. Further, there’s an element of luck in most of these connections. I would have found it all a little mawkish if it weren’t for Lively’s wonderful prose and her musing, throughout, about the curious behavior of time and our stubborn but inconclusive attempts to grapple with it.
Cleverly, Lively makes Matt Faraday a wood-engraver, that is to say a man whose art-form involves both fiddly technical effort and a confusing series of transmutations as images are positive (the drawing), negative (the carving on the surface of the block), then positive again (the print). They are single (the drawing) and multiple (the print). And they are both of a certain period (1930s nostalgic graphic work) and eternal (country subjects like daffodils and church towers). This indeterminate looping structure persists through the book as various characters ruminate on the time/space dimensions in a way that actually seems quite natural.
And of course in writing about artistry of any time, Lively is also writing about narrative. One of her characters works for a spell in a library. “It sometimes seemed to Molly that the library was a place of silent discord and anarchy, its superficial tranquility concealing a babel of assertion and dispute. Fiction is one strident lie — or rather, many competing lies; history is a long narrative of argument and reassessment; travel shouts of self-promotion; biography is pushing a project… And all this is just fine. That is the function of books…” I had no idea it was strident lies I was addicted to, but I quite like the notion.