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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love and Luck
Spoiler Alert

I loved this book. It's a page turner but it's also a writer's dream. It does what every great novel does--makes you see the world in new ways through your sympathy with its main characters. You become attuned to Cameron's soul before you know that his fantasy life is filled with sexual attraction to pre-pubescent girls. By the time you learn...
Published on May 9, 2008 by Rebecca Holsen

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Does not measure up to Livesey's previous work
Margot Livesey is one of my favorite writers, but The House on Fortune Street simply did not deliver. The characters remained fairly undeveloped, and, unlike Eva Moves the Furniture or Banishing Verona (in which the characters were thoroughly engaging), it was hard to care about any of them.

Sean, the protagonist of Part 1, comes across as a clueless,...
Published on March 4, 2010 by e. verrillo


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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love and Luck, May 9, 2008
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Spoiler Alert

I loved this book. It's a page turner but it's also a writer's dream. It does what every great novel does--makes you see the world in new ways through your sympathy with its main characters. You become attuned to Cameron's soul before you know that his fantasy life is filled with sexual attraction to pre-pubescent girls. By the time you learn what he loves, you already love him. (It helps, of course, that he doesn't act on his feelings.) Dara, his daughter, is needy and bereft, but can't love what she needs. She gives her heart to self centered jerks, and you, the reader, want to weep with her for her repeated mistakes. Her best friend, Abigail, is surprised at how easily Dara forgets her friends, her family, and anything that might actually help her, when in love with a man. Abigail herself finds romantic love evasive, until she falls, hard, and bends all her powerful will towards, Sean, the object of her passion. Her actions, viewed from others' points of view, seem a bit cold and calculated. But when the story turns to her point of view, you want to cheer her on, and you understand, finally, what drives her. Sean, the first one we meet, but the last one I got attached to, is more subtle and confused than the others, but ultimately, the most honest and honorable of them all. His section of the story, among other things, teaches you not to jump to conclusions.

This is a story about the varieties of love, but it is also a story about how "time and chance happeneth to us all." If Cameron hadn't come back to the tent at that exact moment, his passions would most likely have remained a secret forever; Dara would not have been and therefore felt abandoned and Cameron would not have lost his first family. If Sean had not re-met Valentine that particular afternoon, Sean might never have met Abigail, and been induced to end his marriage. For as Sean points out, marriage is "a plea for patience on the part of those involved, and for mercy on the part of bystanders." Abigail had no mercy at all, because Sean is the first man she ever really wanted. If, if only. Time and chance are as fateful in this novel as character. How much is character, how much chance, we are left to judge for ourselves. If you put a gun in someone's hand, how responsible are you for what happens if he shoots it?

I think this is a great novel and I plan to give it to all of my friends for Christmas.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, absorbing, truly impossible-to-put-down novel, May 9, 2008
By 
The House on Fortune Street is the best, most absorbing novel I have read all year (and as I have been on a sabbatical, this has been a year of passionate novel reading for me).

The House on Fortune Street isn't a thriller or a whodunit, but at its heart is a mystery. As I read, I found that I felt more and more like a detective, gradually figuring out what has happened and why. I can't remember the last time I felt so engaged in this way by a novel.

The story is set mostly in contemporary London and revolves around four characters, each of whom has his or her own section, and story. When the novel opens, three of the four main characters are living in the house on Fortune Street: Abigail, an actress, owns the house and she and her boyfriend, Sean, a graduate student, live upstairs; Abigail's best friend Dara, a therapist, lives in the garden flat. The first part of the novel is told from Sean's point of view as he struggles to finish his dissertation on Keats, and also struggles with his finances - a crucial issue between him and Abigail. Only near the end of his part did I realize that, like Sean, I hadn't been paying enough attention to what was really important: his neighbor, Dara's, despair.

Dara is in many ways the main character in the novel and it is her story that we are figuring out. The second part of the novel is told from the point of view of her father, Cameron, an ardent amateur photographer who ruins his life, and Dara's, by taking a fatal photograph. In the third part of the novel we hear from Dara herself. And finally, in the fourth, from Abigail. By the time I reached the final pages these four characters truly seemed like people I knew and cared about, and I realized that part of what made them so appealing is how much they are like the people in my own life: complicated, surprising, exasperating, loveable.

There is another aspect of this novel that I really loved: each of the main characters has a famous author who acts as a guide to her or his secrets. For Sean it's Keats. Cameron's guide is Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland. And so on. I loved learning more about these authors, and I felt that their presence really deepened an already wonderful novel.

I'm sure this novel will stay with me for a long time--just like the work of the great writers that Livesey invokes. Livesey herself is one of our very best contemporary novelists and the House on Fortune Street is an absolutely beautiful, moving, truly impossible-to-put-down novel.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Livesey at top of her game, May 26, 2008
Until now, Eva Moves the Furniture was my unqualified favorite of Margot Livesey's works - it has a quiet loveliness that, for me, is shared only with Norman MacLean's A River Runs Through It and Brian Kitely's Still Life with Insects. However, The House on Fortune Street, with it's multiple parts and viewpoints and narrative voices and literary allusions is, by far, her richest, most ambitious, and most successful and satisfying work. The four principal characters' stories are woven tightly and seamlessly together to form a powerful narrative that never feels contrived. The allusions are similarly rich, but never depend upon a reader's familiarity with 19th century literature.

I appreciate Mr. McDonald's thoughtful review, but I respectfully disagree strongly with him - in particular his statement that the novel `starts over in a new setting, with a new cast and a new problem in each part'. As I mention above, The four related parts refract the characters and plot elements in various ways, and, in so doing, create a complex, compelling moral and psychological texture. Livesey never waivers in her focus, in all of the sections, on the principal characters. Finally, aside from my essential disagreement with his assertion that `These people are always eating', I would point out that preparing and eating food actually consumes a substantial proportion of the time that we're not working or sleeping or (for many people) watching television.

I'm a long-time fan of Margot Livesey, I've read all of her books, and this is the first time I've been moved to review a book on the Web.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Suffering is what gives us souls.", June 1, 2008
Margot Livesey's "The House on Fortune Street" is a complex and moving tale about love, loss, and human frailty. Sean Wyman leaves Oxford and his wife, Judy, to be with Abigail Taylor, whose greatest passion is the theater company she founded. Although Abigail professes to adore Sean, he rarely sees her, since she spends countless hours wooing patrons, coaxing actors, identifying promising playwrights, arranging tours, and doing whatever she can to make the Roustabout Theater a success. Desperate for money and making little progress in his dissertation on Keats, Sean agrees to co-write a handbook on euthanasia with his old university friend, Valentine. Living downstairs from Sean and Abigail is Dara MacLeod, who met Abigail when they were both students at St. Andrews. Dara is a compassionate woman and a talented artist who works as a counselor in a woman's center. She has an uneasy relationship with her father, Cameron, who abandoned the family abruptly when she was ten. Dara, who is emotionally fragile, has never been lucky in love, and she longs to have a satisfying relationship with a man whom she can care for and trust. At the age of twenty-six, Abigail received an inheritance that enabled her to buy the house on Fortune Street in London where she lives with Sean and Dara.

This intricately constructed book is divided into four parts, focusing on Sean, Cameron, Dara, and Abigail's stories, respectively. Sean comes to question his decision to leave his wife when Abigail's obsession with her work consumes more and more of her time. Cameron is hiding a shameful secret from Dara that could further damage their already strained relationship. By chance, Dara meets a handsome violinist named Edward Davies, with whom she would like to settle down. Abigail, who is the daughter of capricious and unreliable parents, left home at fifteen and, by dint of perseverance and hard work, made her own way in the world. She has never stayed with one man for long, and her relationship with Sean eventually begins to fray.

This is an elegantly written, literate, and thoughtful look at the many ways in which people delude themselves and others, making terrible choices that they later regret. The author suggests that, for better or worse, we are largely products of our upbringing. Although we may believe that our childhood traumas are behind us, they still play a part in the way we behave as adults. In addition, no matter how close we are to our loved ones, coworkers, and friends, we can never fully understand their underlying motives, thoughts, and feelings. Also serving as a motif throughout the novel are literary works, including "Mrs. Dalloway," "Great Expectations," "Jane Eyre," and "Alice in Wonderland," each of which parallels some aspect of the story. Finally, Livesey poignantly demonstrates how vulnerable we are to betrayal, sudden illness, bad luck, and unforeseen events that have the power to destroy our equilibrium. "The House on Fortune Street" is a profound, ineffably sad, and heartrending work that reminds us just how precious and ephemeral true happiness is.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fate, Luck and Inappropriate Desires, June 18, 2008
At one point in Margaret Livesey's excellent The House on Fortune Street, one of her characters points out that how we handle our inappropriate desires reveals much about us and that statement is true for the four main characters in the novel. Livesey tells the story of three people living in the Fortune Street house--Sean, his girlfriend Abigail, who owns the house, and her friend from university, Dara--as well as Dara's father Cameron. The novel is divided into four sections, each told from one of their perspectives. With each section, the reader comes closer to understanding the true motivations of the characters, the truth of the lies they tell to themselves and to others. Each one of them deals with their own inappropriate desires--among them infidelity, pedophelia, suicide--some act, others don't. The characters' lives intertwine cleverly, entertainingly and the narrative is full of rich images and wonderful observations. I enjoyed this novel a good deal; it was hard to put down. Enjoy!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "YOU DON"T KNOW ME", May 14, 2008
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gerryb (Cambridge, MA USA) - See all my reviews
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This is the best work yet from a terrific novelist. The book has four sections describing four different versions of the same events as experienced by the four main characters , who are related by blood, marriage or friendship . Each character's temperament and personal history colors his or her experience of the same event. I was amazed by the psychological insight and the breadth of Livesey's empathy. The searing honesty of it's investigation into the relativity of morality and perceived reality are presented with memorable power as are her depictions of sexual politics, The large structure is effective, and clear but what moved me most were the offhand riffs and insights into our sad ignorance of others motives . Sentences of stunning perception and nuance occurred often enough to be termed "amazing". They hit me to the quick. Livesey delves into the mysteries of intimacy and otherness in a way I rarely experienced in literature and in a way which shined a light on aspects of my own experience. All this without obvious moral judgment or preachiness What a rare gift.!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not So Simple Twists of Fate, May 10, 2008
The House on Fortune Street is a dazzling accomplishment! With consummate skill and sensitivity, Livesey intertwines the stories of her characters, revealing lives that come to seem both psychologically predestined and utterly, startlingly, subject to the whims of fate. This is a gripping novel that yields immediate pleasure and also lingers in the mind, leaving one wondering anew about the vicissitudes of love and the curses and blessings of life.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Does not measure up to Livesey's previous work, March 4, 2010
By 
e. verrillo (williamsburg, ma) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The House on Fortune Street: A Novel (Paperback)
Margot Livesey is one of my favorite writers, but The House on Fortune Street simply did not deliver. The characters remained fairly undeveloped, and, unlike Eva Moves the Furniture or Banishing Verona (in which the characters were thoroughly engaging), it was hard to care about any of them.

Sean, the protagonist of Part 1, comes across as a clueless, self-absorbed individual with few redeeming qualities. I have no objection to this type of protagonist, but when the story is told in first person, one would hope to gain an understanding of his feelings. Unfortunately, Sean's inner life was too thinly sketched to draw the reader in. Cameron, the "voice" of Part 2, has a more interesting story. But the promise that it would illuminate the reason behind Dara's tragic end was never fulfilled. In Parts 3 and 4, Livesey switches to third person, precisely when she should not have. If, indeed, this was meant to be a story about a friendship between two girls (I have my doubts about that), then the last two narratives needed to be told by the girls themselves. Instead, Livesey dishes up a spate of superficial psychologizing which really doesn't help explain anything. If the structure of the book was supposed to lend depth by providing a multiplicity of perspectives, I have to say it failed in that goal. The characters simply did not have any insights that were worth expressing.

In spite of its major flaws, Fortune Street is still a good read, if only because Livesey's prose is so graceful. She can't help being a good writer, even when her heart isn't in her subject matter.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "A Writer. . . Key to (Your) Life", November 22, 2009
Margot Livesey's "The House on Fortune Street" came out in 2008. The LA Times gave it a favorable review. I felt the book had strong narrators and an intriguing overlap of stories. I enjoyed the literary allusions.

I was somewhat put off by the unnnecessary explanation of the allusions, the attempt to make Cameron a sympathetic character, and some of Dara's histrionics.

The story of Abigail Thomas, her friend, Dara, and their convoluted family histories / love lives does hold the reader's interest. Nevertheless, this is NOT one of those books tht when turning the last page the reader wants to re-read the book or sigh in sorrow to say goodbye to the characters. I was ready to move on to something with more heart.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Left Wanting, April 7, 2009
By 
Although it certainly doesn't occur in every story or every book - it seems to be very common that the end of a work of fiction ties back in some way to the beginning. In "The House on Fortune Street", although I am sure it is probably my fault, the only link between the end and beginning of this book is that both contain a letter. One is a mundane letter from a back, the other a letter whose contents have been eagerly anticipated throughout the book. And yet - I was left flat. I enjoyed the book, on the whole, but I don't feel as if either the big reveal nor the journey the reader takes to get there lived up to expectations.

The four main characters of the novel - Sean, Dara, Abigail and Cameron are each given their own section of the book. In each, we look through their eyes at many of the events that tie them all together. I did feel as if I gained some insight as to why they did what they did, but there was still a barrier that left the question of why they were who they were unanswered.

(I did find it interesting though, that the one character whose head I most did not want to be in was the one character whose section is written in the first person. His thoughts, the images we see while inhabiting his mind, continue to bother me, days after finishing the book.)

And yet, that tantalizing bit that remains out of reach is hinted at in many ways throughout the book. Maybe, now that I think about it, that's one of the main themes of the story.

"She was looking at him across the table, her eyes deep and steady, and he knew that if he stretched out his hand she would lead him to her bedroom. He sat there, meeting her gaze, imagining the skin he could see leading to the skin he couldn't, imagining the pleasure of sex without history. At last, not sure if he was being courageous or cowardly, he looked away."

Each character is tied to a book or a writer, a plot device that I kept forgetting about unless it was being thrust in front of my face. The subtlety was lost on me.

"Dickens has been two years older that she was when he had published his first sketch, and described his eyes so dimmed with joy and pride, that they could not bear the street, and were not fit to be seen there. Her own eyesight was as keen as ever - she could distinguish the start ruin of the cathedral and beyond it the headland - but she understood about hiding joy."

I still feel ambivalent about this book, and I've been considering my review for a few days. I enjoyed reading the book, there were parts that I felt were very well done and I felt as if I learned something about the characters.

And yet - and yet. I guess I never really felt as if the book lived up to its potential. I felt as if there was some big question that had been posed about these four people that was never answered. Four lives, tied together. Each character impacting and forever changing each others lives...

"But no, what she was sensing was absence, not a presence. Everything she could see, everything she could measure, was the same, and yet everything was profoundly altered."
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The House on Fortune Street: A Novel
The House on Fortune Street: A Novel by Margot Livesey (Paperback - May 5, 2009)
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