Margot Livesey

"The House on Fortune Street"

(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky JUN 6, 2008)

"Suffering is what gives us souls."

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 told in the third person and 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 fragile 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.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 35 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The House on Fortune Street at author's website

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About the Author:

Margot LiveseyMargot Livesey was born and grew up in the Scottish Highlands. Her mother died when she was two and a half, and her father, who taught at a private boy’s school, raised her. After taking a B.A. in English and philosophy at the University of York in England she spent most of her twenties working in shops and restaurants and learning to write.

She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, the Massachusetts Artists’ Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Canada Council for the Arts. Since 1996 she has been a Writer-in-Residence at Emerson College and since 1990 she has been a Visiting Professor at the Warren Wilson MFA Program. She previously was a visiting professor at Brandeis University, at Boston University, at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and at Williams College, an assistant professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, a Writer-in-Residence at Cleveland State University, and a lecturer at Tufts University. She has also taught writing at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, Bennington Summer Workshop, the Napa Valley Conference, the Sewanee Writers' Conference, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

Her essays and short stories have been published in The Atlantic Monthly, Five Points, AWP Chronicle, The New Yorker, Story magazine, and The Kenyon Review as well as many other magazines and anthologies. She frequently writes book reviews for the New York Times Book Review and the Boston Globe.

She lives with her husband, a painter, in Cambridge, MA, and goes back to London and Scotland whenever she can. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014