on May 9, 2008
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.
on May 9, 2008
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.
on 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.
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.
on May 23, 2013
The House on Fortune Street is suspenseful and compelling. It's filled with enough allusions to Dickens and Bronte to keep the literature lover engaged without being heavy handed. And while I do admit to rolling my eyes once or twice in response to the organic-wine-loving, Keats-quoting, angst-filled characters, I never thought the author was pretentious. I know it's hard to believe, but it's true.
The book also raises some interesting ethical questions for our generation. In an age when moral relativism trumps moral absolutism in governing our secular sensibilities, to what moral authority, if any, do we appeal when deciding who we can and cannot love? What is legitimate love, and what is off-limits? Through her characters' fates, the author demonstrates that simply "following our hearts" is not a sufficient compass for navigating the complicated web of our relationships, and often has terrible, long-lasting consequences. The author doesn't provide the answers, but she at least gives us something to think about.
Simultaneously sophisticated and suspenseful, thoughtful and fact-paced, this is the ideal summer read. I really enjoyed it.
on August 23, 2013
This is a story of four characters who are damaged from childhood disasters that have molded them. They have numerous close relationships (mostly sexual), but none of them can sustain relationships. This has been done so many times - 20-somethings moving in and out of relationships while trying to make sense of and deal with the traumas of their pasts. Much of the book feels like the reader has read it many times before, although even in the shop-worn parts the author inserts unexpected and fresh elements that show how well she is capable of writing. She also interweaves literature and literary references throughout the text, using them deftly to illuminate the main characters. In an interview Livesey says she gave "each character what I call a `literary godparent.'" Sean's is Keats. Cameron's is Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll). Dara's is Charlotte Bronte, especially Jane Eyre. Abigail's is Charles Dickens. The novel is told in four sections, each from the point of view of one of the main characters. This is handled fairly well, and adds resonance to the novel. Cameron is the most (only?) unique character, and his section is the most engaging.
on May 5, 2013
This is an interesting study in relationships. Starting out from the point of view of one of the male leads, it skips around to tell the same story, more or less, from other points of view. So the major players each get to map out their own versions of events. It's kind of weird at times, because one person's story doesn't necessarily follow the same timeline as another's. But they all converge, particularly around a troubled female lead who lives at the house in the title. When tragedy happens, who is to blame? It is never as simple as it might seem, and this novel deliberately deconstructs a personal tragedy by presenting it through the eyes of the people involved.I thought it was well-written and it held my interest, but there is definitely a feeling of let down at the end. I don't know what I was expecting--certainly not a car chase. But it was probably more realistic than most in that people do just go on in the groove they've set for themselves and simply move past significant events. Some grieve, some grow, and some just move on.
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!
on October 19, 2014
The House on Fortune Street provides four perspectives on the lives of the inhabitants of the home. Abigail and her boyfriend Sean live in the main part of the house, while Abigail’s best friend from her university days has recently moved into the rental apartment. The story opens from Sean’s perspective. He is frustrated with his dissertation, and takes on side writing projects with a colleague in order to help pay his share of the bills. His latest project is a pamphlet for a euthanasia society and it makes him delve into his own feelings about life and death. A mysterious note brings into question his relationship with Abigail and his choices to be with her. A terrible tragedy brought out at the end of his section brings out a question on all of their lives. Next up is a section on Dara’s father, his hidden proclivities and affinity for Charles Dodgson we find out some history on the circumstances that surround his abandonment of his family. The third section tells Abigail’s background of a gypsy-like upbringing and how Dara and Dara’s family are her first chance at the feeling of a real family, but with a dark side. The last section is on Dara herself and how her father’s exit from their family has influenced her relationships with men. As she tries to reconnect with him, she also is managing a flawed relationship with a married man. Each section opens a different side of the story of the House on Fortune Street with the complexities and challenges of life.
on December 29, 2014
I read mostly nonfiction, but sometimes I feel the need for lighter work. The House on Fortune Street works for that while making me process its themes beyond the short time it took to read. At first I thought that the issue was Euthanasia, and I noted with interest that "helpers" in that area might have to find themselves an alibi when the one ending his or her life decided that the time had come. Then I realized that the main claim in the work had more to do with the impact of something at a pivotal time in a person's life, often the reaction to parent's behavior or personality. Remember how John Knowles in A Separate Peace uses an impulse of the moment to affect the individual's life. This work will probably mean more to those who reflect a great deal. For those who don't bother it still makes an entertaining read to use as a diversion. The focus on more than one character at times shifts too abruptly, yet it enables us to gain a clearer understanding of each person's responses to others and to those they are connected by family connection or proximity. Now I need another work of fiction before I tackle my next more extended text.