Saturday, September 5, 2009

Margot Livesey

Margot Livesey's first book, a collection of stories called Learning By Heart, was published by Penguin Canada in 1986. Since then she has published six novels: Homework, Criminals, The Missing World, Eva Moves the Furniture, Banishing Verona and The House on Fortune Street.

Recently I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I don't read as many books as I should by Antipodean writers. Richard Flanagan's gorgeously written novel Wanting made me want to correct this failing. Flanagan is a Tasmanian writer and Wanting is set in the nineteenth century, partly in Tasmania and partly in London. In 1854 Lady Jane Franklin, the widow of the famous polar explorer Sir John Franklin, visited the novelist Charles Dickens, then at the height of his fame, and asked him to rebut an article that suggested that her husband's crew had turned to cannibalism during the last days of their desperate expedition. This meeting provides the dark spark that ignites Flanagan's novel. In alternating chapters he explores Dickens's relationship with his wife, Sir John Franklin and a young actress named Ellen Tiernan and the Franklins' relationship with a young aboriginal girl named Mathinna. Flanagan succeeds in making both Dickens's inner life and the genocide of the aborigines in his native Tasmania equally powerful.

The Scottish writer, James Kennaway, was born in 1928 and died in a car crash in 1968. I first heard of him because he attended the school in Scotland where my father taught but happily, during the sixties, many other people knew him because of his brilliant novels. I just read his posthumously published novel, The Cost of Living Like This. The subject matter could easily sound trite - a married man in his thirties, who's dying of cancer, has an affair with a much younger woman - but the writing is electrifying, crackling with wit and energy and passion. I wanted to stop strangers in the street and read them passages.

Currently I'm re-reading Jane Eyre, and marvelling all over again at Bronte's capacity to invoke the giant passions of childhood and the stages of Jane's journey as she makes her way from girlhood to adulthood. This time I'm trying to pay more attention to Bronte's handling of religion throughout the novel. She was, after all, a minister's daughter.
Learn more about Margot Livesey and her work.

--Marshal Zeringue