The House on Fortune Street – Margot Livesey

Is it possible to emotionally escape the experiences of our childhood in order to live our lives fully as adults? Can we ever break away from our own self-absorption in order to get close to those we hold dear? These topics have been explored endlessly by numerous writers, but none have been as captivating as British novelist Margot Livesey in The House on Fortune Street, a riveting novel set in contemporary London.

After Sean Wyman leaves his wife for unknown actress Abigail Taylor, he moves into Abigail’s house on Fortune Street. Since she’s convinced him that living in London doesn’t have to be expensive, Sean decides to spend most of his time working on his doctoral dissertation on Keats.

Though Abigail is trying to start a theatre company, she isn’t hurting financially, since she inherited money, which also enabled her to purchase the house. Also, Dara, her best and oldest friend from the university, is renting out the flat downstairs. Supposedly, it’s enough to pay the mortgage. That’s why Sean is shocked when Abigail demands that he start paying rent. Now he’s faced with the reality of finding some type of monotonous writing job in order to make more money. He reluctantly contacts an old writing colleague, Valentine, and together they’re commissioned to research and write a book on euthanasia.

The project consumes Sean, but problems with Abigail aren’t far behind. When tragedy strikes the house on Fortune Street, the story seems to conclude, and the reader is left with unanswered questions, as well as many preconceived ideas about its residents. But that’s where the story actually unfolds, and we learn that this really isn’t a novel about Sean; it’s about Dara and Abigail.

The House on Fortune Street consists of four meticulously written stories. Each one could easily stand alone, but they actually interconnect and probe into the pasts of these characters and their families. Each narrative focuses on a particular perspective, helping to explain (though not excuse) decisions made by the characters, as well as their current behavior. From Dara’s father’s illicit obsession to Abigail’s grandfather’s bond with Dickens, we gain answers to questions that surface in the first story. Fans of English literature will also appreciate each character’s fascination with a famous literary work or author.

Issues such as loneliness, insecurity, perversion, infidelity, and even reconciliation are all dealt with carefully and in good taste. Livesey mesmerizes the reader as she creates numerous puzzles to solve, methodically giving clues along the way. It makes the book enticing and difficult to put down.

Few character studies have grabbed me like The House on Fortune Street, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Margot Livesey’s works.

(review previously published on www.nightsandweekends.com)

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