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The House on Fortune Street LP: A Novel

The House on Fortune Street LP: A Novel

by Margot Livesey

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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Geraldine Brooks
“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. ”
Ann Patchett
“I loved this book. The House on Fortune Street pulled me in and kept me rapt from start to finish. Margot Livesey is writing at her very best.”
Liesl Schillinger
What does it mean to be an unmarried woman?…In her new novel, The House on Fortune Street, Margot Livesey brings nuance, context and a cool head to this hot-button issue through detailed portraits of two friends in their 30s: Abigail, who owns the house of the title, and Dara, who rents the downstairs apartment. Both women are unmarried, but they have distinct emotional templates and back stories that give them different ideas about the role men ought to play in their lives…Livesey, the author of half a dozen previous works of fiction, is a lovely, cautious writer. She likes to take her time building the atmosphere her characters move through, adding increments of color, dot by dot.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

The absorbing latest from Livesey (Homework) opens multiple perspectives on the life of Dara MacLeod, a young London therapist, partly by paying subtle homage to literary figures and works. The first of four sections follows Keats scholar Sean Wyman: his girlfriend, Abigail, is Dara's best friend, and the couple lives upstairs from Dara in the titular London house. While Dara tries to coax her boyfriend Edward to move out of the house he shares with his ex-girlfriend and daughter, Sean receives a mysterious letter implying that Abigail is having an affair, and both relationships start to fall apart. The second section, set during Dara's childhood, is narrated by Dara's father, who has a strange fascination with Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) and shares Dodgson's creepy interest in young girls. Dara's meeting with Edward dominates part three, which mirrors the plot of Jane Eyre, and the final part, reminiscent of Great Expectations, is told mainly from Abigail's college-era point of view. The pieces cross-reference and fit together seamlessly, with Dara's fate being revealed by the end of part one and explained in the denouement. Livesey's use of the classics enriches the narrative, giving Dara a larger-than-life resonance. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

Dara, a therapist at a women's center, lives in the downstairs flat of her friend Abigail's London home. A workaholic actress and theatrical producer, Abigail lives upstairs with her boyfriend, Sean, a struggling Keats scholar and writer. Although Dara and Abigail were best friends in college, their lives are so busy there is not much time for getting together. Sean is financially strapped and agrees to coauthor a book on euthanasia. He suspects Abigail is having an affair. Dara is involved with a married man she is perennially sure will leave his wife. And although she is often able to help her clients with their problems, Dara has never resolved issues revolving around her parents' divorce. Her father, Cameron, has never been able to tell her he struggled with attractions to young girls, whom he photographed obsessively. How these four characters ultimately fail at connecting with each other results in a tragedy three will regret for the rest of their lives. Livesey's latest novel (after Banishing Verona) keeps readers brooding over the power of secrets in this dark and disturbing psychological tale. Recommended for literary fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ1/08.]

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
—Keddy Ann Outlaw

Kirkus Reviews
Love proves a destructive force in the lives of four Brits who have divergent perspectives on their interrelated dilemmas in another probing, satisfying novel from Livesey (Banishing Verona, 2004, etc.). In its first section, the story seems to be about a selfish, heartless actress, Abigail, who breaks up poor graduate student Sean's marriage, then sleeps with his university chum Valentine. Abigail's so busy and preoccupied she doesn't notice that her best friend, Dara, is in suicidal despair over a lying lover-but then again, neither does Sean until he comes across Dara's body in the downstairs flat of the house they all share on Fortune Street in London. The book's second section concerns Dara's childhood, seen through the eyes of her father Cameron, who has an unconsummated but unwholesome interest in prepubescent girls. His wife throws him out when she realizes his fondness for Dara's best friend is more than fatherly, and we see in the third section that his daughter has never recovered from Cameron's abrupt disappearance when she was ten. We also see that Dara is partly responsible for her disappointments in love, because she makes her boyfriends the obsessive center of her life. She's rather shocked by Abigail's casual attitude toward sex; even though the two women have been close since they met at university, their totally different personalities often chafe. Abigail, whose feckless parents let her work her way through both high school and university, is tough-minded and something of a user. She loves Dara, but can't understand her friend's neurotic vulnerability. In the moving final pages, Cameron confesses to Abigail what he could never tell Dara, and both confront theirfailures. "There was no question of them forgiving each other," Abigail bleakly concludes. Yet the novel is filled with sorrowful wisdom about the fallible human heart and our myopic view of ourselves and those we love. Moving, gruffly tender and piercingly truthful. Livesey has plenty of critical respect already, but her talents merit a broad popular audience as well. Agent: Amanda Urban/ICM

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Large Print
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

The House on Fortune Street LP A Novel
By Margot Livesey
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2008 Margot Livesey
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061470349

Chapter One

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 after expensive books and sometimes, walking at night, he and Judy had stopped to gaze enviously through the windows of the large lit-up houses, but for the most part his needs had fitted his income. In London, however, living with Abigail, the two had rapidly fallen out of joint, as Sean was only too well aware. This letter was not the result of any reckless extravagance. For six months he had been trying to cut back on photocopyingand refusing invitations to the pub.

Now gazing at Abigail's plate, rimmed with crumbs and one glistening fragment of marmalade, he did his best not to dwell on all the steps, large and small, that had brought this letter to his door. Instead he concentrated on the hundred and twenty-eight pounds, not a huge sum but a serious amount to borrow and, realistically, he would need more, at least two hundred, to remain solvent. On the back of the envelope he jotted down dates and numbers: when he might receive his small salary from the theater, when various bills were due. The figures were undeniable, and irreconcilable.

He tried to think of people from whom he might borrow: his brother, one or two Oxford friends, his old friend Tyler. Much longer and more immediately available was the list of those whom he could not ask; his thrifty parents and Abigail jostled for first place. But then his second slice of toast popped up, and so did a name: Valentine. Sean had vowed, after their last book together, not to take on anything else until he had finished his dissertation, but such a vow, made only to the four walls of his study, was clearly irrelevant in the light of this current emergency. At once the figures on the envelope grew a little less daunting. With luck Valentine's agent would be able to find them another project soon. And if he knew he had money coming in, Sean thought, he could phone the bank and arrange a sensible overdraft.

He was reaching for the marmalade when he heard a sound at the front door. Thinking Abigail had forgotten something, he seized the letter, thrust it into the pocket of his jeans, and tried to impersonate a man having a leisurely breakfast. But it was only someone delivering a leaflet, one of the dozens advertising pizza or estate agents that arrived at the house each day. 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.

Four days later Sean was sitting on Valentine's sofa, scanning the theater reviews in the newspaper, while across the room Valentine talked to his agent on the phone.

"So, it'll be the usual three payments?" The response elicited brisk note taking. Then Sean heard his name. "Yes, Sean and I are doing this together. He'll keep my nose to the grindstone."

Giving up all pretense of reading, he set aside the paper and studied his friend. In his gray linen shirt and expensive jeans, Valentine looked ready to hold forth, at a moment's notice, on some television arts program. His canary yellow hair had darkened in the last few years, and his features, which when he was an undergraduate used to crowd the middle of his face, had now taken up their proper places between his square chin and his high forehead. Even in June, Sean noticed, he was already mysteriously tanned.

"Excellent," said Valentine. Glancing up from the notebook, he twitched the corners of his mouth. After several more superlatives he hung up. "Well," he said, rubbing his hands, "I think this calls for an early drink."

He refused to say more until he had fetched a beer for Sean, and a gin and tonic for himself. Then he raised his glass and broke the news. His agent, Jane, had called to say that the Belladonna Society, a small but well-funded organization founded soon after the First World War, was commissioning a handbook for euthanasia. "They want to make the case for legalizing euthanasia and to give an overview of the medical stuff. They'll provide most of the material but there'll be some research and we'll have to do interviews with medical personnel, relatives."

As Valentine described the society's proposal, the number of pages, and the pay, Sean felt a cold finger run down his spine. "But isn't this like telling people how to kill themselves?" he said. "Isn't it better not to know certain things?" "I don't think so." Valentine swirled his gin and tonic. "As I understand it the information is out there anyway. Our job is to present it in the sanest, most lucid form. Just because you give someone a gun," he added, his chin rising fractionally to meet Sean's objections, "doesn't mean they have to use it."

"I think people usually do feel they have to use guns," Sean said. "And I think whoever gave them the gun is partly responsible. Couldn't Jane find us something else?"


Excerpted from The House on Fortune Street LP by Margot Livesey Copyright © 2008 by Margot Livesey. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This

Geraldine Brooks
“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. ”
Ann Patchett
“I loved this book. The House on Fortune Street pulled me in and kept me rapt from start to finish. Margot Livesey is writing at her very best.”

Meet the Author

MARGOT LIVESEY is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Flight of Gemma Hardy, The House on Fortune Street, Banishing Verona, Eva Moves the Furniture, The Missing World, Criminals, and Homework. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Vogue, and the Atlantic, and she is the recipient of grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. The House on Fortune Street won the 2009 L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award. Born in Scotland, Livesey currently lives in the Boston area and is a professor of fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Brief Biography

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

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