The Boy in the Field

The Boy in the Field

by Margot Livesey


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A New York Times Notable Book of the Year | An O Magazine Best Book of the Year

The New York Times bestselling author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy delivers another “luminous, unforgettable, and perfectly rendered” (Dennis Lehane) novel—a poignant and probing psychological drama that follows the lives of three siblings in the wake of a violent crime.

One September afternoon in 1999, teenagers Matthew, Zoe, and Duncan Lang are walking home from school when they discover a boy lying in a field, bloody and unconscious. Thanks to their intervention, the boy’s life is saved. In the aftermath, all three siblings are irrevocably changed. 

Matthew, the oldest, becomes obsessed with tracking down the assailant, secretly searching the local town with the victim’s brother. Zoe wanders the streets of Oxford, looking at men, and one of them, a visiting American graduate student, looks back. Duncan, the youngest, who has seldom thought about being adopted, suddenly decides he wants to find his birth mother. Overshadowing all three is the awareness that something is amiss in their parents’ marriage. Over the course of the autumn, as each of the siblings confronts the complications and contradictions of their approaching adulthood, they find themselves at once drawn together and driven apart.

Written with the deceptive simplicity and power of a fable, The Boy in the Field showcases Margot Livesey’s unmatched ability to “tell her tale masterfully, with intelligence, tenderness, and a shrewd understanding of all our mercurial human impulses” (Lily King, author of Euphoria).

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


Livesey (Mercury) serves up a distinctive blend of literary fiction and psychological thriller. It’s nearing the end of 1999 when teenaged sibling Matthew, Zoe, and Duncan Lang spot a boy, beaten and unconscious, in the outskirts of Oxford, England, after their father, Hal, fails to pick them up from school. The paramedics arrive and take the boy away in an ambulance, and the children rush home, realizing “something enormous” has happened. The event brings their statuses in the family into stark relief. Duncan, having been sent by his siblings to call for help, reckons with the “inevitability of being the youngest.” Matthew, the oldest, enamored by the heroes and villains of crime novels, wants to know who did it and why. Zoe follows men in Oxford streets, wondering if they were the perpetrators, and experiences a rude sexual awakening along the way (“You’re a hot little thing, aren’t you?” one says to her). Duncan, who’s adopted, believes finding information about the victim will help him in the search for his biological mother. Hal and his wife, Betsy, support their pursuits, which eventually drive the couple apart. Precise prose, cool observation, and tight pacing will keep readers turning the pages. This is a memorable twist on the coming-of-age tale. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM Partners. (Aug.)

starred review Booklist

Every character rings true; every observation and reaction feels real. Braiding three separate views of the same incident, Livesey weaves a masterful tapestry of emotion and action focused on the indelible impact of random events.

Compelling in its simplicity and complexity. Each page is rich with understanding of how lives fit together and fall apart.

Elizabeth Wetmore

How lucky the world is that Margot Livesey has turned her usual keen and sympathetic writer’s eye to the Lang children as they struggle to make sense of a terrible crime and the sensitive, mysterious young victim who suffers in the aftermath. From its taut and frightening opening chapter to its final, mournful pages, The Boy in the Field  is a tender, deeply humane exploration of family, philosophy, and what it means to grow up, to keep secrets, to care for one another, and most importantly, what it means to hold another’s heart in yours, always, with tenderness and mercy.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

A swift-moving mystery that expands into subtler sorts of narratives — the coming of age, the family in crisis — Margot Livesey’s ninth novel, The Boy in the Field, once more demonstrates how she’s the best sort of pro.

New York Times Book Review

In the broadest sense, Margot Livesey’s exquisite novel The Boy in the Field is a whodunit.… But the real mysteries lie elsewhere, specifically and most compellingly with the characters who are witnesses to the crime…. Livesey’s writing is quiet, observant and beautifully efficient — there’s not an extra word or scene in the entire book — and yet simultaneously so cinematic, you can hear the orchestral soundtrack as you tear through the pages.” 

Book of the Week People

An expertly crafted novel of family (and one almost magically good dog) filled with dazzling insights and beauty.

Kevin Wilson

Margot Livesey has the unique ability to find the hidden darkness beneath the surface of our lives, no matter how deeply buried. A deceptively simple story that explores the aftermath of a moment of violence, The Boy in the Field amazed me with its insight, and the subtlety of Livesey's beautiful, almost dreamlike prose. She speaks of a sensation — "quick as a mousetrap, sharp as a thorn" — and I can't think of a better description of her work. Quick and sharp.

New York Journal of Books

Here, everything and everyone feels real. Maybe because those most sensational details of incidents that would normally be the raison d’etre of a book like this one, with a crime at its center, receive the very welcome nuanced treatment from author Livesey, whose novels have, for a couple of decades now, been successful at making the rich subtext of feeling, memory, and difficult life decisions mulled over, the main event of her stories."

Claire Lombardo

"I loved every single sentence of The Boy in the Field. This novel is so intricately woven, its world so vibrantly built, its characters so beautifully and empathically wrought. To experience the world as rendered by Margot Livesey is a singular, extraordinary delight."

Boston Globe

Luminous.... Livesey’s language is crystalline-clear and immersive.... Ultimately what keeps Livesey’s novel aloft is that it is full of kindnesses ... as well as Livesey’s precisely evocative words. At one point, Duncan tears a handful of his sketches in half, “enjoying the decisive sound of fibers parting.” Like so many other moments in this novel, that description nails the moment, the character, and the elemental aspect of the book in one fell, satisfactory swoop.


Written with psychological precision and empathy…. Explores the enduring and, in this case, elastic bonds of family love.

Tessa Hadley

Written in elegant, spare prose, this story flies swiftly forwards from the transfixing opening pages. A charming, complicated family dynamic, a twist of eerie magic.

the Oprah Magazine O

"Margot Livesey is a literary pointillist whose prose is both impressionistic and as precise as a geometry equation…. Tiny piece by tiny piece, Livesey builds an intimate universe that expands and expands “until it grows large enough, almost, to keep everything else at bay.

Shelf Awareness

A stunning novel of tenderness, interconnectedness, cause and effect.

O Magazine

"Margot Livesey is a literary pointillist whose prose is both impressionistic and as precise as a geometry equation…. Tiny piece by tiny piece, Livesey builds an intimate universe that expands and expands “until it grows large enough, almost, to keep everything else at bay.

Library Journal


In 1999, three British teenage siblings on their way home from school find an injured youth lying in a field. Significantly, the boy whispers a word, but all three hear something different. Matthew, the eldest, takes it upon himself to continue to investigate the incident, contacting the victim's odd brother and trying to offer the detective additional "clues." Zoe discovers her budding sexuality and pursues a relationship with an Oxford student. Aspiring artist Duncan adopts a dog and decides to find his birth mother. During their varying pursuits, all three learn a family secret involving their parents. While avoiding many stereotypical tropes, Livesey (Mercury) deftly portrays the rich inner lives of adolescents. In unique ways, each sibling uses the incident that opens the novel as a jumping-off point for self-discovery. Though their involvement in the crime was relatively minor, each makes it "about them," as teenagers are wont to do. VERDICT There are perhaps a few too many coincidences in an attempt to tie up loose ends, but Livesey does well by her teenage protagonists while offering a vivid portrait of life among intellectuals in an Oxford-vicinity village.—Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2020-05-04
A random act of violence opens vistas into the vagaries of fate and the complexity of human experience for three teenagers.

Walking home from school in a town near Oxford, Matthew, Zoe, and Duncan Lang spot a boy lying in an adjacent field, wearing “what appeared to be long red socks.” This is a characteristic Livesey description, subtle, with a lurking sting: The socks are trails of blood. Karel Lustig, the siblings learn later, has been stabbed and left there by a stranger who picked him up hitchhiking home from work. Each of the trio deals with this unsettling event differently. Eldest Matthew, haunted by memories of a childhood friend abused by her father, avidly follows the police investigation, but a meeting with Karel’s older brother shows him the case also involves a complicated family dynamic. Middle child Zoe learns that their father is having an affair and starts one of her own with an American Ph.D. student; unpredictably (as plot twists often are in Livesey’s work), this proves to be a good thing. Thirteen-year-old Duncan, adopted as an infant, decides he needs to find his birth mother—“first mother” he is careful to call her when broaching the subject with his adoptive mother, whom he loves greatly. Family bonds are fraught, fragile, yet ultimately enduring in Livesey’s nuanced account of the siblings’ separate but conjoined odysseys, counterpointed by piercing glimpses of Karel, who confesses to Duncan that sometimes he wishes they hadn’t rescued him. The reasons for his wish are among the many motives that simmer beneath the text without rising to the surface; Livesey demonstrates the same respect for the mysteries of the human heart that enriched such previous novels as Eva Moves the Furniture (2001) and Banishing Verona (2004). (The discovery of Karel’s assailant, for example, explains almost nothing.) We can discern her literary credo in a discovery she gives to Duncan, a talented artist who realizes that the only way to truly draw anything or anyone is to simply look rather than imposing meaning.

Quietly yet powerfully affecting.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062946393
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/11/2020
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 10,242
Product dimensions: 8.30(w) x 5.60(h) x 1.10(d)

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