The House on Fortune Street
Winner 2009 L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award
It seems like mutual good luck for Abigail and Dara when they meet at university and, despite their differences, become fast friends. Years later they remain an unlikely pair: Abigail, an actress who confidently uses her charms both on and offstage, is reluctant to commit. Dara, a therapist, throws herself into every relationship with frightening intensity. Yet each seems—another stroke of luck?—to have found "True love": Abigail with her academic boyfriend, and Dara with a tall, dark violinist.
Soon, however, trouble threatens both relationships, and their friendship. For Abigail it comes in the form of an anonymous letter; for Dara, a reconciliation with her distant father reawakens complicated childhood feelings. Whatever the source of their problems, there is no mistaking the tragedy that strikes the house on Fortune Street.
The British novelist Margot Livesey, a shrewd diagnostician of Western mini-maladies, writes of two talented young women whose lives are malformed by what you might call emotional scurvy. The two are the focus of the novel, but Ms. Livesey is after a larger and sharper view of their comfortable world. The House on Fortune Street is a title with a sting in its tail. Livesey's writing is acutely observant; her psychological algebra is admirable and sometimes astonishing." Richard Eder, The New York Times
None of the houses in Margot Livesey's newest novel is safe or sound enough to meet the needs of its inhabitants, including the house on Fortune Street in the Brixton area of London that lends the book its title. The most durable structure here, in fact, is not a house but the novel itself, whose design unites so seamlessly with its intentions that one wants to admire it from every angle...the narrative never seems mired in the same ways as its characters: It keeps turning and turning, like an architectural model on a revolving pedestal, revealing something new with every spin." Donna Rifkind, The Washington Post [Read the full review]
[R]esonant, heartbreaking....The House on Fortune Street explores the way in which we are all prisoners of the past. It's a spectacularly compassionate work, brimming with sharp insight into why we do the things we do, even when we know we shouldn't....Reading this surprising and supremely engaging novel, you may feel occasionally like the discombobulated Sean: 'Everything, he thought, he had got everything wrong.' Livesey, on the other hand, gets everything right." Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald
Deceptively simple...Livesey doesn't shy away from taboo topics, nor, thankfully, does she use them to add a jolt of cheap adrenaline....While the psychological mystery that spurs the novel forward is gripping, it's her clarity, of both writing and understanding, which elevates the novel. Also, because great last sentences are rarer than hen's teeth, it must be noted that The House on Fortune Street has a doozy." Yvonne Zipp, The Christian Science Monitor
It's rare for a novel to contain characters as alive as the ideas they are created to explore, but The House on Fortune Street is one of the best of this kind to come along in a while....Livesey is attentive as always to word choice and rhythm, and her prose beautifully evokes the thwarted passion and thrilling intrigue found in the works of Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, Keats and Charles Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll)." Conan Putnam, The Chicago Tribune
On my quest to find good books to write about for my summer reading list I have stumbled across another fantastic novel: Margot Livesey's The House on Fortune Street....I literally could not put it down. It's not exactly light summer reading—though it's a fast read—but even in summer we need some substance." Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald
Margot Livesey's characters are ruled by a combination of choice and fate in a work in which life's smallest details reveal emotional depths....Livesey writes with extraordinary clarity and makes it look deceptively easy. The resulting novel is a work that is both an addicting story, where the characters and their lives are richly rendered, and a beautifully literary read. It's a narrow rope to walk, and Livesey does it with marvelous aplomb." Robin Vidimos, The Denver Post
[S]plendid....Like a psychotherapist, Livesey deftly unwinds their stories, exposing the ways in which each learned to live with betrayal early on. Watching her work is mesmerizing; smart and suspenseful, this is a novel that will keep you in its thrall." Michelle Green, People
[An] uncommonly attractive novel....This novelist does not shy away from risk, taking on such hot-button topics as child abandonment and pedophilia, while, to boot, making one of her protagonists a psychologist, a choice that might have led to pat explanation and obvious plotting. That is not the case here; the psychological foundations revealed are never overplayed, never reductive. The truths in this novel are deep, and the conclusions Livesey draws from them are subtle. Her control of her complex plot is manifest throughout. The House on Fortune Street is not all psychology, though. It is, in the best sense of the term, a literary novel: Livesey invokes particular writers and even particular works to add resonance to her characters and their situations. Each of the novel's four sections has its own leitmotif: the poems of the great English Romantic John Keats, the life of Lewis Carroll, Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and Dickens' Great Expectations. Here again, Livesey is supple in her approach. Even if a reader is unfamiliar with those texts, their significance is made perfectly clear. And for the vast majority of her readers, who will indeed know them well, they add a great deal—all the more so in the hands of a writer as skilled as Livesey. Livesey probes deep into her characters; her understanding of them is profound and her ability to convey her insights powerful. By the novel's wrenching conclusion, she has succeeded in making you feel that you have been living these characters' lives along with them." Martin Rubin, The Los Angeles Times [Read the full review]
Livesey's writing is so melodic, intimate, and perfectly calibrated that she crawls beneath the skin of each [character], telling her tale from four distinct but interlocking points of view and meticulously knitting the threads into a devastating whole. It's a work that lingers long after the last page is turned. A-" Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
"Livesey is writing at her very best." Ann Patchett
"With empathy and deftness, Margot Livesey brings to life a vivid circle of characters whose lives twist and turn upon each other in a Möbius strip of emotional entanglements. Structurally daring and compulsively readable, The House on Fortune Street illuminates the complexities of love in some of its most difficult guises, and of loss in all of its immensity." Geraldine Brooks
"Absorbing...The pieces cross-reference and fit together seamlessly....Livesey's use of the classics enriches the narrative." Publishers Weekly
"Another probing, satisfying novel from Livesey.... Moving, gruffly tender and piercingly truthful." Kirkus Reviews
"Intricately weaving the cause and effect of each character's circumstances into four self-contained but essentially linked episodes, Livesey, polished and intriguing as ever, incisively explores the sinuous themes of regret and responsibility, truth and trust with an understated yet tenacious certainty." Booklist
In the Author's Words
"The House on Fortune Street began when a depressed ghost writer moved into the house next door in London. Something about this young man's struggles—eventually his parents had to come and take him home—made me think again about questions of luck and love and damage. Growing up, I was convinced that being an adult would solve all my problems. I was shocked to discover that early misfortune was no guarantee of later good luck. Yet some people do seem mysteriously lucky, or mysteriously unscathed. It made me think: What happens if two women, each with a difficult childhood, become friends and how will that friendship accommodate the ups and downs of romantic love?"