Consequences by Penelope Lively
I liked this novel. I always enjoy a Penelope Lively novel. This one is superbly written. The tone of the novel is soft and thoughtful, with little that jars. Considering the fact that two of the three heroines in the novels die prematurely, as does the man who's the center focus of the novel, that's an achievement. Lively has a way of muting the traumatic by focusing on ancillary things. The way one gets through periods of great sorrow or stress by cleaning the bathtub as it's never been cleaned before--or some other task that's inconsequential in the face of one’s feelings. Several parts of the book begin after a death has occurred and the reader picks up the basic fact and the details bit by bit. Each new part indicates the passage of some years and a new focus; there are no chapters, just informal breaks which indicate smaller gaps in the action. I liked that technique. It avoids "scenes" in a way that's not covering up emotion (the way my mother discouraged "scenes") but enhancing it.
It's the story of three generations of women, mothers and daughters, starting in the 1930ies, and their small, odd, unconventional family where the women are always at the center. The three women are distinctly different characters without being terribly different in their basic sensibilities and approaches to life. They could so easily just have been reincarnations of the same character.
There might be a problem, I'm thinking though, in moving as quickly as Lively does from one main character to another and depending on a dead artist (who died in WWII at the end of the first section) to unify the book. The conventional generational novel is longer, with a broader focus, more events, more characters so there's more closure when one moves from one generation to the next. This novel is much sparser and can't really be compared with a generational novel. It is a bit artificial to kill off two of the women; it needs to happen for the novel to work though.