Eva Moves the Furniture

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"On the morning of Eva McEwen's birth, six magpies congregate in the apple tree outside the window - a bad omen, according to legend. That night Eva's mother dies; leaving her to be raised by her aunt and heartsick father in the small town of Troon, Scotland." "Eva's peaceful childhood is disrupted the day a woman and a girl mysteriously appear in her garden. Over the years, the two make frequent visits; invisible to everyone else, at first they seem benevolent, helping to tidy her room and collect the hens' eggs. But as Eva grows older, her
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Eva Moves the Furniture: A Novel

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"On the morning of Eva McEwen's birth, six magpies congregate in the apple tree outside the window - a bad omen, according to legend. That night Eva's mother dies; leaving her to be raised by her aunt and heartsick father in the small town of Troon, Scotland." "Eva's peaceful childhood is disrupted the day a woman and a girl mysteriously appear in her garden. Over the years, the two make frequent visits; invisible to everyone else, at first they seem benevolent, helping to tidy her room and collect the hens' eggs. But as Eva grows older, her visitors' intentions become increasingly unclear: Do they wish to protect or harm her? Is their meddling in her best interests or prompted by darker motivations?" In the shadow of World War II, Eva studies nursing in Glasgow, tending to the injured soldiers. But when she falls in love with a young plastic surgeon, her companions seem to have a very different idea as to her fate, and once again she finds herself unable to resist their pull.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Margot Livesey is a writer at the pinnacle of her craft. Eva Moves the Furniture is such a complete, sturdy yet graceful novel that it is difficult for a critic to wedge herself in between the writer and the reader." —Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Livesey is a writer of tremendous grace and precision.... [Her] wonderful new novel will haunt you in a sweet way, and leave you with a spark of hope for us all." —Chicago Tribune

"What is extraordinary about this novel is the fretwork of feeling among its unorthodox cast of characters.... Livesey has written a ghost story, of sorts...and, if it moves you, the end will send you back to the beginning." —The New Yorker

"Stunning...She limns her tale with beautiful evocations of the loneliness of childhood, the shimmery quality of ghostly spirits and the fear and excitement of wartime." —San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

"In this fetching, ultimately moving novel, magic and danger are so inextricably bound that the palpable world seems slightly less trustworthy than the one you cannot see." —The Boston Globe

"Livesey writes with such restraint that the shock lies in events themselves, not her language. She uses metaphors beautiful in their precision....Simultaneously chilling and compassionate." —The Washington Post Book World

"This is a novel that enters the reader’s life in much the same way that the companions come to Eva. It looks harmless enough, like a child's fantasy, inhabiting a fairy tale in which powerful, other-worldly forces are at work, but reader beware. If you give Eva McEwen just a little space in your own imagination, she will start moving the furniture." —The New York Times Book Review

"Perfectly structured...In prose direct and precise she limns Eva's story with steady authority." —The Atlantic Monthly

Andrea Barrett
Not since Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping has there been such a beautiful novel about the unbreakable bond between mother and daughter.
Diane Johnson
. . . story that hooks you immediately, and perfect language with which to capture the inner lives of these odd, endearing characters.
Rosellen Brown
A quiet book with a deadly perception at its center.
Publishers Weekly
After Criminals and The Missing World, it should be no surprise that the immensely talented Livesey continues to juxtapose strange events with mundane daily activities, sending a jolt through her ordinary characters and settings. The wonder is that she can draw readers into her world so gently that the barriers between reality and the fantastic quickly fall. The first time the narrator Eva McEwen sees her "companions" she is six, and living near the Scottish town of Troon with her middle-aged father and her aunt, who came to raise Eva after her mother died in childbed. Though much loved, Eva is lonely, and when a woman who "shone as if she had been dipped in silver" and a young girl with long braids and freckles appear one afternoon in the garden, she is at first unaware that they are not corporeal. The companions, as she comes to call them, are not visible to others, however, and their purpose in her life seems unclear. Twice they save her from fatal harm; twice they destroy a romance; often they are comforting; sometimes they signal their presence by moving furniture. Eva works as a nurse in a Glasgow infirmary during WWII, but the burden of her secret keeps her from achieving intimacy with anyone. When she does confide in a man she loves, a brilliant surgeon, heartbreak ensues. She seeks solace in her mother's native village of Glenaird, where she marries and has a daughter. But in a poignant denouement, the significance of the companions is made clear. With remarkable control, Livesey presents the companions in matter-of-fact detail, eschewing frissons of horror and providing a lucid explanation of their presence. Her restraint and delicacy, and the reader's identification with theappealing Eva, result in a haunting drama. Agent, Amanda Urban. (Sept.) Forecast: An author tour and strong word of mouth should spark this novel's sales. Every mother who yearns to protect her child will relate to Eva and react emotionally to Livesey's moving story. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In a departure from her psychological tales full of menacing undercurrents (Homework, The Missing World), Livesey's latest outing is a deceptively simple coming-of-age story set in small-town Scotland between the wars. Eva McEwen, whose mother dies in childbirth, is lovingly raised by her father and aunt. What sets this ordinary tale slightly off kilter is the presence in Eva's life of two ghosts ("the companions," as she refers to them) a girl and a woman whom, she realizes very early on, only she can see. Although it is clear that the companions are there more for her protection than to cause harm, they seem capable of manipulating events in her life. From Eva's bucolic childhood through young adulthood, working first as an office girl and later as a wartime nurse, from a failed romance to a happy marriage and motherhood, her angel/ghosts are never far away, helping to steer her. But, in the end, as they repeatedly warn her, they are unable to change the course of her history. While it may take some Livesey fans by surprise, this lovely, bittersweet novel should find a warm place in their hearts. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/01.] Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A haunting and haunted fourth novel from Livesey ("The Missing World", 2000, etc.), this about a woman whose life is accompanied by invisible "companions" who shape her destiny in ways both helpful and harmful. Narrator Eva McEwen's mother Barbara dies on the day of Eva's birth in 1920. When she's six, playing outside her home in the Scottish lowlands, Eva meets a silver-haired woman and a freckled girl she soon realizes can't be seen by others. Raised by her elderly father and his sister Lily (the first in a series of characters rendered with extraordinary subtlety and depth), the lonely girl takes comfort from her invisible friends but also realizes that "the presence of the companions in my life was like a hidden deformity: ugly, mysterious, and incomprehensible." The figures rescue her from menacing gypsies, but they also fling furniture around her room and get her fired from her first job. When Eva becomes a nurse in Glasgow during WWII and falls in love with plastic surgeon Samuel Rosenblum, the companions destroy her chance to marry him. Or do they? Livesey's precisely calibrated narrative, characteristically cognizant of human complexities and contradictions, reminds us that we are both subject to forces beyond our control "and "responsible for our lives. It may be that Eva chose to let Samuel go, though she grieves for him even after she marries kind schoolmaster Matthew and bears a daughter, Ruth. Guilt over leaving her father and Aunt Lily further shadows her life, and her mother Barbara's absence remains an aching wound. The radiant yet unsettling climax suggests that Barbara also had companions, and that Ruth will make her own choice about whether she needs thisotherworldly support. This isn't a ghost story, but rather a searching examination of how we deal with our ghosts. Livesey's scrupulous prose, lyrical yet classically exact, is the perfect vehicle to convey her multilayered insights. Pitiless, deeply moving, and terrifying: another flawless work from an uncompromising artist.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312421038
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 10/28/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 401,506
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Margot Livesey

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.


Margot Livesey is the award-winning author of a story collection, Learning by Heart, and of the novels Homework, Criminals, The Missing World, and Eva Moves the Furniture, which was a New York Times Notable Book, an Atlantic Monthly Best Book of the Year, and a PEN/Winship finalist. Born in Scotland, she currently lives in the Boston area, where she is writer in residence at Emerson College.

Author biography courtesy of Henry Holt and Company.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Livesey:

"My worst job was a very brief stint at a Hare Krishna factory in Toronto, packing incense. The combination of compulsory prayers and of having my friends get out their handkerchiefs whenever I entered a room soon made me give notice. My favorite job was working as a cleaner at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. We managed to do the work in half the time we were paid for and I loved pushing my broom around the galleries, getting to look at the art day after day."

"The first Americans I ever met were a family who came to teach for a year at the boys' school where my father taught. They invited us over for New Year's Eve and instead of the usual festivities spent the evening showing us slides of their very extensive holidays in Yosemite. Ever since I've had a mild aversion to slide shows and I still haven't been to Yosemite."

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    1. Hometown:
      Boston, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 24, 1953
    2. Place of Birth:
      Perth, Scotland
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English and philosophy from the University of York, England

Read an Excerpt

I am not sure now how long it took me to realise that the woman and the girl were different from our other neighbours. They appeared and disappeared mysteriously, they seemed to have no home, they would not answer simple questions: Do you like dogs? What are your names? "Don't ask," they said. "We're your companions."

The real difference though was not their reticence — most grownups were not forthcoming — but their invisibility. In my mind there was already such confusion between two categories commonly held to be opposites: the living and the dead. As for a third category, the ghosts in my storybooks were filmy, insubstantial beings who did not graze their knees or chase hens. The companions did not seem to fit into that group either; they existed in their own peculiar dimension.

separates our world from the next." (Alice Hoffman)
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Reading Group Guide

Eva Moves the Furniture, the fourth novel by the widely celebratedMargot Livesey, combines the beauty and simplicity of a fairy tale with the complexity and passion of a supernatural coming-of-age novel. Eva McEwen, born in 1920 in the small town of Troon, Scotland, grows up motherless, lonely, and isolated. Although raised by a loving aunt and heartsick yet amiable father, Eva's childhood is frequently interrupted by visits from two "companions" -- a woman and a girl-who are invisible to everyone but her. As Eva grows older, these companions continue to visit her, but their intentions become increasingly unclear: Do they wish to protect or harm her? Livesey offers us a novel about family and friendship, loss and loneliness, motherhood and magic -- about the loves, legends, and legacies that comprise a lifetime, and how we all live our lives alongside the living and the dead. As noted in The New York Times Book Review, the novel "enters the reader's life in much the same way that the companions come to Eva... If you give Eva McEwen just a little space in your own imagination, she will start moving the furniture. "

Discussion Questions:
1. Is this novel a ghost story? If so, how does it compare with other ghost stories you may have read?

2. Early in the story, Eva, our narrator and protagonist, makes the claim: "Some parts of this story are true in one way, some in another." What does she mean by this remark? How does it apply throughout the novel?

3. Author Margot Livesey, in an interview about this book, admitted: "It took me a long time to realize that just because I didn't remember my mother, didn't mean she hadn't been important in my life. I think it was learning how to understand that feeling which enabled me to write the novel." How are these comments echoed in the pages of Eva Moves the Furniture -- and especially in the relationship between Eva and Barbara?

4. In the wake of her mother's death, Eva effectively acquires two different sets of surrogate parents: Lily and David (gentle country folk from the Scottish village of Troon) and the woman and the child (mysterious yet friendly visitors from another realm of existence). Discuss the larger purpose that each couple serves in Eva's life. When and why does each couple help Eva, and when and why-if at all-do they hinder her?

5. Describe the omens that occur on the day Eva is born, then discuss how, over the course of the novel, these omens turn out to be true or false. Also, talk about the presence and function of fate in this novel. How is the idea of fate or destiny represented by the two characters known as the companions?

6. Barbara, Lily, and Eva are all women who need to earn their own living. What does the novel suggest about the roles and possibilities for women in the first half of the twentieth century?

7. Describe the character of Samuel, and his attitude towards his patients and towards reconstructive surgery. Why does Eva liken her experiences with the companions to Samuel's being Jewish? And why, in turn, does she refuse to marry him?

8. What sort of picture does Eva Moves the Furniture give to life and work during wartime? Discuss the ways in which the depiction of the infirmary enhanced or changed your understanding of the Second World War.

9. This is a story in four parts, each with its own title. What do the four titles, and their progression, show us about Eva? Were you surprised by the title of Part IV: You? Can (and if so, does) this "you" interact with the companions in the same manner as Eva?

10. In her efforts to come to terms with her situation, Eva explores what might be termed various aspects of the supernatural: local legends, Judaism, lives of saints, and legends from other cultures. Do you believe in the supernatural? Have you ever had experiences that you regard as supernatural? How have you dealt with them and explained them to other people?

About the Author:
Margot Livesey is the award-winning author of the story collection Learning by Heart and the novels Homework, Criminals, and The Missing World. Born in Scotland, she now lives in the Boston area, where she is a writer-in-residence at Emerson College.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2003

    Good, quick read !!!

    I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. If you watch John Edwards' Crossing Over, this puts a whole new twist on death. It comforted me and I wholeheartedly recommend it. I even shed a few tears at the end.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Strong psychological tale

    In 1920 Troon, Scotland, Eva McEwan is born under a dark cloud. What should have been a happy event for her parents turns ugly when magpies are seen flocking to a tree just outside the family home. Everyone knows that omen always forecasts something bad and that evening, Eva¿s mother passes away. Her father and her aunt raise Eva in a very isolated environment. <P>When she turns six, a woman accompanied by a young girl visits Eva, but no one else sees the two females. Over the years, the duo provides positive and negative influence on Eva by providing her a friendship and helping with her chores, but also causes her to lose her first job. During World War II, Eva, now a nurse, falls in love with Doctor Samuel Rosenblum, but marries someone else who she likes and admires but does not love. Did the two companions end her chances with Samuel or did Eva do what she felt is the right thing for her beloved? <P> EVA MOVES THE FURNITURE is a strong psychological tale that centers on individuals who must contend with their ghosts (metaphysical yet real) to live life to the fullest. People are responsible for their actions whether the ghosts exist or are imaginative. Fans of a deep character driven tale that pares the soul so that observers can see raw emotions will enjoy Margot Livesey¿s novel. The book will be considered a classic in a decade or so. The author will receive current kudos deserving of a superstar who has an uncanny knack of telling a story with quite a wallop. <P>Harriet Klausner

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2002

    Couldn't finish it

    Unfortunately this book did not turn out to be what I thought it would. I gave it a good effort, reading about 120 pages and then gave up. It is well written, but the story itself just couldn't hook me. It moved fairly slowly and predictably for my tastes. I am sure there are many readers who would enjoy it. I prefer something that draws me in so that I can hardly wait to pick the book back up. There was nothing about the lead character that enabled me to relate to her or sympathize with her.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2008

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2009

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