Friday, February 02, 2024

Margot Livesey's The Road from Belhaven reveals an ordinary yet uncommon woman's life in late 19th-century Scotland

Written with a graceful simplicity, The Road from Belhaven will enfold you unexpectedly quickly into the life of its heroine, Lizzie Craig, a character whose emotions are so vivid that it’s impossible not to feel for her through all her growing pains, yearnings, and mistakes.

Orphaned as a baby, Lizzie is raised by her grandparents on their property, Belhaven Farm, in Fife, Scotland, in the late 19th century. The rhythms of rural life, beautifully summoned, instill a sense of wonder as Lizzie takes pride in gathering eggs and caring for their animals through the seasons, aware that the future responsibility for the land will lie with her.

Excited to learn she has an older sister, Kate, who comes to join the family, Lizzie is slow to realize how this will affect her future. Lizzie also keeps to herself that she gets occasional flashes – “pictures,” as she calls them – of future events, which often drive her to rash decisions even though she doesn’t have the power to prevent what happens.

When Lizzie turns sixteen, a tailor’s apprentice from Glasgow, Louis Hunter, comes to help her family in the fields. Their growing relationship has her following him to the city, where she soon finds herself in the shameful situation of all too many love-struck unmarried women.

In this sense, Livesey’s novel offers a timeless story that’s made distinctive through well-wrought details: the harvest ceilidhs; the crowded bustle of Glasgow, which has Lizzie agog; the “white harled farmhouse” where her grandmother, Flora, dispenses wisdom she suspects won’t be heeded. But it’s not predictable, overall, thanks to the delicate characterizations.

Although many people – herself included – cause Lizzie undue heartache and regret, there are no true villains, other than society itself and how it curtails women’s choices. This is a beautiful book about the sharp-cornered path to maturity.

Margot Livesey's The Road from Belhaven will be published by Knopf next Tuesday, February 6th. I reviewed it from NetGalley for the Historical Novels Review. There doesn't appear to be a separate UK edition. The author is a Scottish-born writer who now resides in the US.

4 comments:

  1. I looked for this on Netgalley. Not even in the archived section.

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    1. Here's the link to it - it's live there until March 6th, from what I can tell. If you can't see it, there may be geographic restrictions.

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  2. Your review makes me want to read this book!

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    1. I'm happy to hear that! It was a memorable read.

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