The idea of human choice vs. fate lies at the core of much fiction. Penelope Lively, one of England's most talented novelists and a writer whose works combine narrative intensity and artistic control, has explored this notion repeatedly. In her latest offering, the delightful "How It All Began," a random assault and purse snatching capriciously shapes the lives of seven Londoners.

Charlotte Rainsford, a wise and gentle retired schoolteacher, sustains a broken hip when mugged on a London street. Because of her injury, the 77-year-old moves in with her daughter, Rose.

Rose works as an assistant to an elderly academic, but because of her mother's medical emergency, Rose cannot accompany Lord Henry to Manchester, where he is to speak at a conference. Instead, Lord Henry goes with his niece, Marion. When Marion leaves a text message for her married lover, Jeremy, explaining her absence, Jeremy's wife intercepts the message and soon files for divorce.

And on and on the fallout goes.

Lively's novel is skillfully constructed, with a thoroughly engaging plot. It also has much to say about the role of chance in human affairs, the aging process and the importance of memories.