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Margot Livesey

Author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy

14+ Works 3,500 Members 207 Reviews 10 Favorited

About the Author

Margot Livesey is the award-winning author of a story collection, Learning by Heart, and the novels Homework, Criminals, and The Missing World. Born in Scotland, she currently lives and teaches in the Boston area. (Bowker Author Biography)
Image credit: Photo by Nigel Beale / Flickr

Works by Margot Livesey

The Flight of Gemma Hardy (2012) 1,038 copies
Eva Moves the Furniture (2001) 618 copies
The House on Fortune Street (2008) 437 copies
The Boy in the Field (2020) 321 copies
Banishing Verona (2004) 249 copies
The Missing World (2000) 239 copies
Criminals (1996) 209 copies
Mercury: A Novel (2016) 148 copies
Homework (1990) 100 copies
The Road from Belhaven (2024) 71 copies
criminales (2001) 1 copy

Associated Works

The Mill on the Floss (1860) — Introduction, some editions — 8,749 copies
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) — Introduction, some editions — 2,412 copies
The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books (1997) — Contributor — 305 copies
The Writer's Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House (2009) — Contributor — 124 copies
A Few Thousand Words About Love (1998) — Contributor — 22 copies


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Common Knowledge



Margot Livesey combines a mundane coming-of-age story with a bit (a very little bit) of magic in this novel. Her protagonist is Lizzy Craig. Lizzy was orphaned as an infant and raised by her grandparents on a rural farm in Scotland. She is naïve but also can be quite resourceful when the situation calls for it. She expects to inherit the farm after the passing of her grandparents. She envisages getting married, raising a family, and living happily ever after on the farm. Of course, that wouldn’t be much of a story, so Livesey introduces a long-lost sister, Kate, into the mix. Kate, not Lizzy, ends up with all of those perks. Lizzy’s fate provides what little suspense there is to be had in the plot. Suffice it to say, it provides hard lessons in the loss of innocence, and betrayal while also leaving some space for redemption.

The magic in Livesey’s novel derives from Lizzy’s gift of second sight. Ever since childhood, she sees “pictures” that foretell future events, most of which warn of shattering events. One might expect this plot element to provide the impetus to elevate the story from the mundane to the magical. Unfortunately, Livesey fails to take full advantage of it. Instead, she just uses it move the plot pieces around a little. As a result, the reader is left with an interesting and atmospheric story, but one that is quite common. Clearly, the questions of how inevitable events Lizzy sees will be, or if she can prevent them from happening are intriguing. In light of the religious argument of predestination vs. free will that is so common in the Calvinist religious tradition prevalent in Scotland, one senses a squandered opportunity here.

Notwithstanding its shortcomings, Livesey’s narrative clearly demonstrates her prowess. The writing is both lyrical and evocative. Imagery of rural and urban Scottish life in the 19th-century is quite effective. The characters are engaging, nuanced and well-drawn. And the plot is absorbing, especially when events force Lizzy to respond imaginatively.
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1 vote
ozzer | 4 other reviews | Mar 25, 2024 |
Set in the 1880s, The Road from Belhaven by Margot Livesey revolves around Lizzie Craig who we meet as a young orphan growing up in the care of her maternal grandparents Rab and Flora on Belhaven Farm, in rural Scotland. Lizzie is gifted with second sight – the “pictures” she envisions that are indicative of future events - visions that come to her infrequently but know to mostly keep to herself. Lizzie loves to read and is a curious child. Hers is mostly a happy childhood with her life with her loving grandparents, in the company of the farm animals, her books and school, and their farmhand Hugh who eventually moves to Glasgow in search of better opportunities. Lizzie is surprised to find out that she has an older sister Kate who has been raised by their paternal grandparents. When Kate comes to live with them. Lizzie’s life slowly begins to change. Lizzie begins to dream of a life with new opportunities – a life she is encouraged to embark on when a young man named Louis enters her life. Unbeknownst to Lizzie, the consequences of her choices will not only irrevocably change her own life but could also fracture the relationships she holds dear.

I loved the premise of this novel and was engrossed in the first half of the story. The author’s description of Belhaven Farm, life in rural Scotland with its customs and traditions, and Lizzie’s curiosity and love for reading were a joy to read. But my enthusiasm for this novel dampened as the narrative veered toward a predictable trajectory with stereotypical characters and though I could sympathize with Lizzie’s plight, I began to lose interest in her story. As we follow Lizzie’s transition from a sheltered farm girl to a young woman finding her own way in the city, I felt as though I was reading about a completely different person in the second half of the novel. While most of the characters were well thought out and realistic, the changes in Lizzie are often abrupt, unexplored and her motivations are difficult to understand. Her choices are questionable, her behavior uncharacteristic at times, and while I won’t judge her, I would have liked the opportunity to understand her motivations. I usually enjoy quiet character-driven fiction with minimal melodrama, but I thought the latter half of this coming-of-age story lacked emotional depth. As a plot point, the magical realism aspect- Lizzie’s gift - was not explored in depth or integral to the overall plot in the way it could have been. Overall, I thought the story had potential and it pains me to be unable to give this novel a higher rating.

Many thanks to Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage, and Anchor for the digital review copy via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.
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srms.reads | 4 other reviews | Mar 19, 2024 |
Lizzie lives with her grandparents on Belhaven Farm; her parents are dead, and she's surprised to learn she has an older sister, Kate, who comes to live with them after the death of another relative. Kate's suitor, Callum, begins to court the farm as well, although he buts heads with the girls' grandfather, Rab, who is stuck in his ways and refuses to try anything new on the farm. Nevertheless, Kate and Callum marry and begin producing children; meanwhile, Lizzie is growing up, and when she meets Louis, a tailor's apprentice in Glasgow, he lures her to the city, where she finds work. Louis lures her into more, Lizzie not realizing the consequences until it's too late, and Louis refusing to marry her until his apprenticeship is up. Lizzie returns to the farm and has Barbara, but her "pictures" - visions of the future that have appeared to her throughout her life and have always proved prophetic - warn her that Louis will stray without her there, so she returns, leaving Barbara with her grandmother, Flora. But in Lizzie's absence, Flora gives Barbara to schoolteacher Miss Urquhart, and Lizzie becomes desperate to get her back - especially when a vision shows her that Barbara is in danger. It's not Louis or Kate who helps Lizzie, but Louis' friend Tom, who also provides Lizzie and Barbara refuge with his grandfather.

Beautifully written, with a rich setting - farm, village, and city - and characters. In retrospect, much might have been different if Lizzie had known a bit more about human biology and societal norms, and if Rab hadn't been so inflexible and unforgiving.

See also: Maggie O'Farrell


Should a person's life depend on a thin chain of coincidences? (22)

Lizzie repeated what Hugh used to say: heaven was a way to make poor people behave. If they believed in the rewards of the afterlife, they wouldn't complain about this one. (55)

No one but Hugh had ever spoken as if her life were one thing and could, perhaps, be another. (73)

She had wanted to be a good girl, she still did, but there were other things she wanted more. (84)

He talked on, trying to convince her, but all she heard was that his life would continue running along the rails, while hers hurtled toward ruin. (117)

The letter weighed less than a handful of corn, yet to send it would change everything....I'm just knocking at the door, she told herself. I don't have to open it. (141)

"I'd give anything not to have left, but what can I do now?" (185)

"I don't blame you, but don't promise something you can't do." (Kate to Lizzie, 187)
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JennyArch | 4 other reviews | Feb 14, 2024 |
This was an excellent and compelling read. Young Lizzie Craig lives with her grandparents, Flora and Rab, having been orphaned as a baby. She lives with them on a farm, Belhaven, in late 19th century Scotland.She has the gift of the second sight, but she only sees things sporadically, and keeps this information to herself. In her teens, a young man named Louis comes to help on the farm, and Lizzie falls in love with him. Louis is apprenticed to a tailor in Glasgow, and Lizzie soon runs away from home to be with him .

Lizzie makes many difficult , but often poor decisions , and finds herself pregnant out of wedlock. Louis' devotion to her is tested.

A fascinating and quick read, filled with interesting characters, I really enjoyed this story. The ending seemed a bit too quick , and I felt the conclusion was touching, but lacking in the closure that I would have preferred.

Nonetheless, a wonderful and recommended read.
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vancouverdeb | 4 other reviews | Feb 13, 2024 |



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