Another probing study of the way character shapes our destinies from the author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy (2012), etc.
It’s perhaps a bit much to make Donald an optometrist, given that he confesses shortly after disclosing his occupation that he failed to see wife Viv’s obsession with a horse named Mercury until it was much too late. But Livesey, a Scottish transplant whose brilliant novels are underknown in her adopted country, rings so many dazzling changes on the subjects of eyesight, hindsight, and blinkered sight that she may be forgiven the whiff of contrivance in her setup. Donald’s personality is utterly credible: cautious, precise, Scottish-ly phlegmatic yet roiled by deep feelings of loss. They go back to boyhood, when his family’s move from Edinburgh to Boston cost Donald his best friend, and have been elevated to devastating levels by the recent death of his father after a long siege of Parkinson’s disease. The intensity of Donald’s attachment to his father is palpable but never really explained; Livesey has a healthy respect for the mysteries of the human heart. Viv, who narrates the novel’s middle section, is rendered with somewhat less nuance: her lifelong need to be the best, focused on riding in adolescence and only temporarily derailed to a career in mutual funds, re-emerges with a scary edge when Mercury arrives at the stable she now runs with her best friend, Claudia. It’s hard to be entirely sympathetic when she tells Donald (accurately), “Since your dad died you’ve been MIA,” as we see Viv driven into secrecy and lies by her hysterical need to make Mercury a champion and herself a star. But Donald also keeps secrets, one of which contributes to a ghastly act of misdirected violence that leads to a dance of regret, recrimination, and indecision bringing further losses for husband and wife. A sharply sketched supporting cast adds to the depth and cumulative power of this grimly great novel.
Uncharacteristically dark, yet more evidence of Livesey’s formidable gifts.