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Summary and book reviews of The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey

The House on Fortune Street

A Novel

by Margot Livesey

The House on Fortune Street
  • Critics' Opinion:

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  • First Published:
    May 2008, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2009, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lesa Holstine

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About this Book

Book Summary

Margot Livesey skillfully reveals how luck—good and bad—plays a vital role in our lives, and how the search for truth can prove a dangerous undertaking.

It seems like mutual good luck for Abigail Taylor and Dara MacLeod when they meet at St. Andrews 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, believes herself immune to love. Dara, a counselor, is convinced that everyone is inescapably marked by childhood; she throws herself into romantic relationships with frightening intensity. Yet now each seems to have found "true love"—another stroke of luck?—Abigail with her academic boyfriend, Sean, and Dara with a tall, dark violinist named Edward, who literally falls at her feet. But soon after Dara moves into Abigail's downstairs apartment, trouble threatens both relationships, and their friendship.

For Abigail it comes in the form of an anonymous letter to Sean claiming that she's been unfaithful; for Dara, a reconciliation with her distant father, Cameron, who left the family when Dara was ten, reawakens complicated feelings. Through four ingeniously interlocking narratives—Sean's, Cameron's, Dara's, and Abigail's—we gradually understand how these characters' lives are shaped by both chance and determination. Whatever the source, there is no mistaking the tragedy that strikes the house on Fortune Street.

"Everyone," claims Abigail, "has a book or a writer who's the key to their life." As this statement reverberates through each of the narratives, Margot Livesey skillfully reveals how luck—good and bad—plays a vital role in our lives, and how the search for truth can prove a dangerous undertaking. Written with her characteristic elegance and wit, The House on Fortune Street offers a surprisingly provocative detective story of the heart.

The House on Fortune Street

The letter came, deceptively, in the kind of envelope a businesslike friend, or his supervisor, might use. It was typed on rather heavy white paper and signed with the pleasing name of Beth Giardini. Sean read the brief paragraphs twice, admiring the mixture of courtesy and menace. Perhaps it had escaped his notice that he was overdrawn by one hundred and twenty-eight pounds? As he doubtless recalled, the bank had waived the penalty last time; this time, regretfully, they must impose their normal fee. Would he kindly telephone to discuss the matter at his earliest convenience? Sitting in the empty kitchen, surrounded by the evidence of Abigail’s hasty departure, Sean understood that he was suffering from what his beloved Keats had called bill pestilence. When he was still living in Oxford, still married, most people he knew, including himself and his wife, were poor but their poverty hadn’t seemed to matter. Of course he had yearned ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction

It seems like mutual good luck for Abigail Taylor and Dara MacLeod when they meet at university and, despite their differences, become fast friends. Years later they remain inseparable: Abigail, the actress, allegedly immune to romance, and Dara, a therapist, throwing herself into relationships with frightening intensity. Now both believe they've found "true love." But luck seems to run out when Dara moves into Abigail's downstairs apartment. Suddenly both their friendship and their relationships are in peril, for tragedy is waiting to strike the house on Fortune Street.


Questions for Discussion

  1. Sean is characterized as someone who would rather not revisit "uncomfortable memories,&...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

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.   (Reviewed by Lesa Holstine).

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Media Reviews
Los Angeles Times - Martin Rubin

Pretty ordinary stuff, you might think -- not exactly unexplored territory. Yet in the hands of Scots-born novelist Margot Livesey, this seemingly mundane story has such substance and freshness that it draws the reader right in. Her style -- vibrant, evocative, irresistible -- has a lot to do with it: "In the silent aftermath Sean couldn't help noticing that his familiar surroundings had taken on a new intensity; the sage-colored walls were more vivid, the stove shone more brightly, the refrigerator purred more insistently, the glasses gleamed. His home here was in danger."

Kirkus Reviews

Moving, gruffly tender and piercingly truthful. Livesey has plenty of critical respect already, but her talents merit a broad popular audience as well.

Publishers Weekly

Written with her characteristic elegance and wit...a surprisingly provocative detective story of the heart.

Library Journal

Livesey's latest novel ...keeps readers brooding over the power of secrets in this dark and disturbing psychological tale.

Author Blurb Geraldine Brooks
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.

Reader Reviews
barbara adair

The House on Fortune Street
I enjoyed this book so much. There was a lot about it I liked. I had no idea how the story line was going to go. There were intricate plots within plots. I thought Margot Livesey did a great job on this book and I would like to read more of her. ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Victorian Era
Each of Margot Livesey's four key characters relates to a specific author: John Keats, Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf.

Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) and Charles Dickens were both prominent Victorians, the term used to describe people, things and events during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). A great source of information on the Victorian period can be found at victorianweb.org. Created and managed by George Landow, Professor of English and Art History at Brown University, the website has more than 60,000 documents covering the literature, history and culture of the age of Victoria. It ...

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