Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka
Thursday, September 29, 2016
Hardcover, 336 pages
A review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours
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There is a loaded gun at the center of Mercury. As writer Anton Chekhov famously warned, a story that contains a loaded gun must eventually allow the gun to be fired, or the gun has no place in the story. Margot Livesey does not violate Chekhov's rule in her newest novel.
Livesey, author of many other novels, including The Flight of Gemma Hardy and Eva Moves the Furniture is originally from Scotland, although she has lived and taught in the United States for many years. In Mercury, one of the narrators is a Scottish immigrant; Donald is an optometrist and former eye surgeon who has settled into a seemingly happy life in a suburb outside Boston. His wife, Viv, is American, an optimist and dreamer, who believes that she can still do something big with her life. After a career in finance, Viv has settled into a less demanding job managing her best friend's stable, and the couple seem to have a life that works: two young children, liberal values, an egalitarian marriage. The only grief in their lives is the sadness and loss that Donald still feels after the death of his father, who suffered from Parkinson's disease.
Yet into this happy and almost complacent life come secrets, silent yearnings, and distance. Donald has donned what Viv calls his "astronaut's suit" and she feels shut out from his emotions. And Viv has fallen in love with a beautiful powerful horse--named Mercury--who she fancies will redeem her youthful dream of success in the world of horse shows. As Donald and Viv slowly orbit away from each other, the little secrets they keep from each other become betrayals.
The novel is divided into three parts, with the first and last sections narrated by Donald, while Viv tells her own story in the middle section. The theme of blindness (spiritual, moral, actual) is introduced through Donald's profession, and through the character of Jack, a blind classics professor who is Donald's close friend. Livesey is especially good at depicting friendships--both the friendships of Donald and Jack, and Viv's friendships with female friends (her best friend Claudia, Mercury's owner Hilary). Livesey also captures the odd dynamics of friendship among couples. The network of friendships and work relationships is artfully drawn, and Livesey creates fully realized characters who are sympathetic (some more so than others). Donald, despite his reserved nature and obvious flaws, turns out to be almost entirely sympathetic, even when he is making horrible decisions, The same can't always be said of Viv, although Livesey gives Viv her say.
Mercury turns out to be a novel about moral decisions, and finding out that right and wrong are not always as obvious as we might have thought. What happens when you must choose between two people you love? What happens when you discover that you are not as morally correct as you once thought?
Mercury doesn't provide easy answers to these questions, but it does offer very human answers. I appreciated this novel for the moral complexity of the situation, and because the characters and situation were quite believable and real. I'm not sure this book qualifies as a thriller, mostly because it is more character driven than plot driven. But the narrative does push toward an act of violence that can't be taken back, and both the event and the aftermath are complex and devastating. There are no easy answers in Mercury but the questions are ones that most readers will find compelling.