Monday, October 17, 2016

Review: Mercury by Margot Livesey

When you get married and have kids, sometimes you have to put other things about your life on the back burner, at least in the early years when babies are so overwhelmingly needy. This can be incredibly difficult, especially when the thing you've sidelined is something that once brought you much joy or even defined a major piece of yourself. And if you come to find the time to pursue that passion once again, it can be that much more intense than it was before you knew what life was like without it. The trick is in the balancing of the life you've chosen and the newly rediscovered dream, not allowing one to subsume the other. This struggle and the way it changes the dynamic of the family involved is at the heart of Margot Livesey's newest novel, Mercury.

Donald and Viv Stevenson have what looks to be an enviable marriage. They have two children and jobs they enjoy well enough. Their personalities balance each other out and they hold the same liberal beliefs, working from the same moral stance. But in the past year, Donald has been felled by grief after the death of his father and he seems to have insulated himself from further emotion. While Donald is at an emotional remove from Viv and the kids, he is missing a complete sea change in his wife. Having given up a lucrative job in finance to work at her best friend's barn and riding school, Viv is happy working with young riders until a new horse comes to board at Windy Hill. Mercury, a beautiful thoroughbred, is an exceptional horse and he reawakens Viv's long dormant desire to compete. Slowly she is drawn into more and more obsessive and troubling behaviour around this horse that is not hers.

Told in three sections, with Donald's narrative framing Viv's, this story of a foundering marriage, obsession, omissions, and shifting perspectives is an interesting one. Donald is by far the more sympathetic character. He is an optometrist whose vision certainly isn't clear but he never betrays his base character. His worst sin is in missing the transformation of his wife. In fact, he has a long history of not confronting unpleasantness and waffling over decisions in his background, which causes him to take on quite a lot of unearned guilt over the terrible result of Viv's unhealthy obsession and possessiveness. In his narration, he struggles to discover where he has been willfully blind and therefore must take responsibility for missing pivotal moments that could have changed their eventual outcome. Inserted into the middle of his hindsight narration is Viv's section, which is written as if she is telling her version of events to Donald, justifying her actions and laying blame on his emotional unreachability. But it is only in the wake of the shocking happening that she reveals her secrets and her trespasses to his view. And even in the wake of this event, neither of them have any clarity on the moral imperative they face.

The novel is complex with ambiguities and blame, and the theme of sight and blindness is quite obvious throughout the narrative. The tension rises throughout Donald's first section but once the threatened action comes to fruition, the story becomes less alarming and more focused on internal reactions, the question of what is right and why, and whether a marriage gone so far off track can come together again. There is much that is troubling here, both intentionally written that way and for me as a reader. There is an overt political diatribe that could have been more subtly (and therefore effectively) handled and a couple of tangential plot lines had more weight than they deserved.  The ending is unrealistic and rather unsatisfying.  But over all, the novel is a quiet look at the secrets, omissions, and incremental changes in character that result in a marriage that is no longer what it once was and will appeal to those who enjoy reading about non-attention grabbing marriages in crisis or about the small, non-sexual infidelities that can, and do, change the tenor of everything.

For more information about Margot Livesey and the book, check out her website, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. Also, check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the HarperCollins for sending me a copy of this book to review.


  1. An intelligent and insightful review, Kristen. This didn't grab my interest when I first saw it in the Crazy for CanLit lists, and reviews I've seen thus far, including yours, haven't changed my mind about reading it.


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