by Margot Livesey
After a couple of chapters into Margot Livesley's latest novel, Mercury, it's easy to lean toward thinking one is reading a murder mystery even though (so far as we know) there's no body. There's only a man trying to understand the lengths to which his wife will go to get what she wants. In this case, a race horse called Mercury.
Donald, an optometrist in suburban Boston, is complacent in his happiness. Rather than examining why his wife quit a paying job to donate her time to a local stable, he takes the passive route and accepts her decision at face value—she likes horses. But as months roll by, he begins trying to piece together the reason for her increasingly strange behavior, and wonders at his own part in creating the fissure that has opened between them.
The novel has a suffocating feel and a chapter-by-chapter escalation of questionable events that beg answers. The story is told from Donald's perspective, which we incrementally discover is actually a log of past events; he possesses all the facts of the story, dangling the carrot in front of our noses.
The novel is well written with a decidedly European flavor. No detail is left unnoticed as we become acquainted with the circumstances, but for this reader, Donald's investigation begins to feel obsessively meticulous, and his self-blame is pitiable. At some point one has to wonder if the wife's position begs more sympathy than seemed appropriate at first. It is perhaps a juncture where the author intended readers to land.
Readers will either be a bit impatient, or they'll really get into the intricacies of why people act the way they do. It's a fine suspense and an even better character study from that standpoint, and there actually is, eventually, the commitment of a crime.
Reviewed by Sue Ellis!
HarperCollins Publishers, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-06-265372-7 (BAM Signed Editions)
Buy the book! Mercury, at Amazon
The book is written in first person limited, a venue that allows the main character, Donald, to tell the story through his perspective only. The viewpoints of the other characters must be prized from his descriptions and opinions, or through dialogue. It's an effective way to highlight the main character's inner turmoil and for readers to judge whether his opinions seem valid.