Abigail and Dara both experienced life-changing events when
they were ten years old. One woman gets on with her life;
the other continues to look for answers to her past. The
question that Margot Livesey asks is what happens when two
women, each with a difficult childhood, become friends and
how will that friendship accommodate the ups and downs of
romantic love? How does childhood trauma affect people?
As the reader follows Abigail and Dara through life, it's fascinating to see the effects of those early events. Is it luck or fate that brings Dara together with Edward, a musician, and Abigail together with Sean, a Ph.D. candidate? Livesey complicates the question by suggesting that we make our own luck, both good and bad, through our choices, but the effects of those choices are rarely straightforward. Perhaps the most intriguing character in the book is Dara's father, Cameron. Cameron makes one bad decision and the course of his lifeand consequently Dara'schanges forever. The author does such an outstanding job of allowing each character to tell his or her story that the reader can actually imagine the road not taken.
Abigail mentions that her grandfather believed, "Everyone had a book, or a writer, that was the key to their life." Dara's stepfather responds, "Does the person have to have read the book? Or is the connection there anyway, and some people figure it out and others don't?" It's up to the reader to figure out Cameron's link to Lewis Carroll, Sean's to John Keats, and Dara's to Virginia Woolf. The most surprising link, and one that humanizes her, is Abigail's connection to Charles Dickens.
In The House on Fortune Street, Livesey devotes one section to each character, and each section pays homage to a different classic English novel. One by one, her characters reveal their lives, and the reader's view changes as the author peels back the story. Livesey's novel is an absorbing study of people who, by luck, choice, or fate, change their destiny.
This review was originally published in May 2008, and has been updated for the May 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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