Luck and family legacy – good and bad – form the foundation of the story of Dara and Abigail, two women who meet and become friends, despite their differences in background, personality and attitudes toward life and love. Years later, they meet again and become housemates, with Dara renting a flat in the London home that Abigail owns. Both are single but romantically involved.
Livesey tells the story in four parts, each focused on a different character. Each of the women of course is allotted a segment; the others are the stories of important men in their lives: one a lover and one a father. The narratives backtrack and often overlap in time, painting a larger and more complete picture of the forces that have shaped each of the women. Livesey describes the book as a puzzle and indeed in reading there are the “aha” moments when an event mentioned in one section takes on larger meaning or becomes comprehensible when viewed through the lens of another character. Woven throughout are literary references – to Dickens, Keats, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and Bronte.
This is a quiet, compassionate book that seduces the reader while posing all the larger important questions of life: who survives and who succumbs to the trials of childhood and life; what is strength; how do we recognize love; and, what do we do when it is granted or denied?
BIB note: Livesey seems fascinated by life’s what if moments. Years earlier, I read her novel Criminals which told the unsettling story of a baby abandoned in a bus stop, rescued and then…kept instead of being reported to authorities. At what point did those involved in the incident cross the line from savior to criminal?
The writing in these two books is intelligent and memorable; the characters drawn from the fabric of real life. More than once reading Criminals, I felt I was looking in a mirror and asking myself “what if…” an experience that repeated itself with The House on Fortune Street.