Laurie Hertzel On Margot Livesey’s Latest

Beloved Scottish writer Margot Livesey returns with a gem of a novel

‘The Road From Belhaven,’ set in Victorian Scotland, tells of orphaned Lizzie, who is blessed — and cursed — with second sight

By Laurie Hartzel

In 2001, Margot Livesey published a novel based on the life of her mother, who died young and who, it was said, had the gift of second sight. That book, the poignant “Eva Moves the Furniture,” told the story of a girl whose life was guided by two ghostly companions, seamlessly blending mortal life with the afterworld.

Now, after several other successful novels (“The Boy in the Field,” “The Flight of Gemma Hardy”), Livesey has returned to her mother’s life for inspiration. “The Road From Belhaven,” set in Victorian Scotland, tells of orphaned Lizzie, who lives with her grandparents, Rab and Flora, on a small farm outside Glasgow. Like Eva, Lizzie is haunted — by “pictures,” shimmering images that come to her unbidden, revealing the future.

Livesey, who was born in Scotland and teaches at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, often explores the loss of innocence. “The Road From Belhaven” is a coming-of-age story about abandonment, betrayal and inheritance. The prose is radiant and descriptive, rich with Scottish imagery — dreich (gloomy) days, the tradition of first-footing (being the first to enter a house in the new year, for luck), jackdaws and curlews, bluebells and blackthorn. There are so many mentions of eggs, universal shorthand for fertility, that you just know there’s going to be a baby at some point in this story. Read the full review at the Washington Post.

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