26 August 2008

The House on Fortune Street, by Margot Livesey

Harper Collins 2008 311 pages. ISBN 978-0-06-145152-2.

Margot Livesey has written five other novels, according to the dust jacket on this book. Further information from that source tells us that while she is from Scotland, she is presently living near Boston, and is a writer in residence at Emerson College.

This novel is written in four major parts. Each part deals with a different point of view, but with the same story. Now, this is not simply a retelling of the story from four vantage points. That doesn't sound very interesting or original to me, and this book is both. As a matter of fact, this is easily one of the very best books of any type that I've read.

The principal characters are Sean, Abigail, Dara, and Dara's father Cameron. Sean is a scholar who gave up a business career to return to school and study Keats. Abigail is the woman who stole Sean away from his idealistic, nearly-idyllic marriage -- only to disappoint him with coldness and infidelity later on. Dara is Abigail's close friend from college, who lives in the flat downstairs from Sean and Abigail, in the house of the title, which is Abigail's by virtue of an unexpected inheritance.

Cameron is the older person in this group of four, and his part of the novel flashes back in time to when he was the age of the other characters, in order to tell the story of his uniquely problematic life. Cameron is the older of two boys, but his younger brother Lionel was killed in an accident at age fourteen.

There are many other people involved in this story, including Abigail's parents, who provided her with a great deal of uncertainty and insecurity, moving her all over Britain during her childhood. Dara has, of course, a mother -- divorced from her father when his secret becomes apparent to her. Sean has a brother to whom he turns when his life becomes a morass of betrayal and despair.

The characters in The House on Fortune Street are complicated. No one is excessively good, nor is anyone supremely bad. At times, Abigail seems to qualify as the Evil one of the cast -- but her story is more complex than that. We get a good background on all these people, who they are, and why they behave as they do. Character development is extremely complete and believable in this book.

The story itself is fascinating, and I won't reveal any more of it here. I encourage you to read this novel -- I think nearly anyone would enjoy it. The plot is neatly done, thoroughly fascinating, and perfectly wrapped up at the end. This is not a particularly happy story, dealing with some of the saddest aspects of human experience, but there is much about it that is attractive and warm -- it is not completely pessimistic about the resilience of human spirit.

This is the first book I've read by Livesey's, I'm glad there are others.

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