Stuck! Margot Livesey, Uncut Pages in Old Books, & Post-Election Grief

margot-livesey-jacket-mercuryI’m stuck!

I said I would read one new book a week.

I’ve rejected two in five days.  I’ll write about one today.

I slogged through 208 pages of Margot Livesey’s Mercury,  then skipped to the end.   My conclusion?  Fire the editor.

Livesey is a skillful, likable writer, and at her best she has an extraordinary imagination and a gift for moving a story vigorously forward. In the past her complex characters have included a modern Jane Eyre, an amnesiac, and a heroine with invisible companions.

You can almost see the outline of Mercury.  Like so many novels today, it lacks depth. Livesey’s unobtrusive style usually supports the unfolding of her narrative, but in this case the writing is leaden.

There is a coherent structure, but the narrative seems rushed.  Divided into three parts, the first and third parts of Mercury are narrated by Donald, an unhappy Scottish ophthalmologist in private practice who no longer does surgery.  The  middle part is narrated by his wife Viv, who left a corporate job to co-manage a local stable with her best friend, Claudia.

Donald and Viv’s marriage is disintegrating because their values have changed:  under the influence of a wealthy new friend, Hilary, Viv is pressing to send their son to a private school ($30,000 a year). Donald and Viv have always supported the public schools in their Boston suburb. He resents her neglect of the family as she works longer and longer hours at the stable.

And Viv’s narrative is even sketchier than Donald’s.  She didn’t achieve her goal to be a corporate CEO, so she quit her job in mutual funds.  Now at the stable she behaves like a CEO,  obsessed with training a horse named Mercury, covering up problems from her partner, and focused on winning competitions.  She becomes increasingly paranoid.

I’m not a horsey person, but this plot-oriented novel is not in the same class as Enid Bagnold’s National Velvet, mentioned here, Dick Francis’s thrillers, or Jane Smiley’s Horse Heaven. It is a weird marriage of literary and pop.  So disappointing, because Livesey is usually so good.

Do you think it a coincidence that two of the characters are named Donald and Hilary?  Well, yes, I do!


When pages are uncut in an old book, what do you do?

Online booksellers say to use an index card. Scissors work better for me. How about a letter opener?

Any suggestions?


I’m still living
in the dream we had,
For me it’s not over…
—Neil Young, “Big Time”

On Day Five after the election, I am still grieving.  It can’t be true…this is my country.

I rattle my pill bottles. Do you think Advil or Clariton would help?  (Homemade vegetable soup was the solution)

People are sad.  People are protesting. And people are desperately signing up for Obamacare before the Affordable Care Act is revoked.  According to Newsweek, more than 100,000 Americans signed up on Wednesday after Donald Trump won the election.

Live through the Nixon years, the Reagan years, and the Bush years, and you realize every generation has to fight over and over for human rights.  It is never over.  We signed the “I’m  Pro-Choice and I Vote” postcards 30 years ago and we still sign them.

One senses a certain Schadenfreude abroad.  Even in London, where I knew no one at all, I encountered anti-American feeling.  A chatty young clerk informed me  that the American governemnt was the worst in the world and that Obama had accomplished nothing. Not only was I the fattest person in the UK, but I had to be an American ambassador. I smiled, briefly praised Obama, and said Clinton would be the next president of the U.S.

Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote.  It’s a very precarious time, but all we can do is hope for the best. Let us hope the Republicans will reach across the aisles…work together with others…  I always have such beautiful dreams.

We can’t give up.

In a 1989 comic strip called “Point the Finger,” R. Crumb compared Donald Trump to Trimalchio, the vulgar millionaire in the Roman novel, Petronius’s Satryricon (which I wrote about   here).

As Crumb said, “And isn’t this a nutty kinda country where you can draw any irreverent, degrading thing about the most powerful people and nobody cares! You don’t get jailed. You don’t get persecuted. They just ice you out of the marketplace.”

All right, peace!  Here are four frames of the comic strip.  Laughter is good for us.

11 thoughts on “Stuck! Margot Livesey, Uncut Pages in Old Books, & Post-Election Grief

  1. 1- I have stopped reading new novels in French (no money to buy them) and English (no place to buy them and even less money) but when I read your comments I regret it less and less: they seem so thin.
    2- I use very sharp and thin letter openers to cut uncut pages of old books (the sentence seems odd and unclear but you will understand me.
    3- You say Trimalchio, I thought of “The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire”. Some Empires last longer than others.


  2. I would say letter openers too – intended to open paper neatly so hopefully they would work. As for the election – I think there’s a lot of fear in Europe because of the result. America is such a big world power that it’s obviously of great concern to us whose running the place….


  3. You have become a superb literary critic, but sometimes reading this way becomes so dominant that one loses an ability to suspend disbelief. I have what might be called a letter cutter: I am not sure what is the name. It’s a flat long metallic stick, its edges are razor sharp without being quite like a scissor.They can be found on-line and you can read a book using one another at almost the speed of reading without it.

    On this election — deeply deeply desolating. He won 60% plus a tiny number; she won 60% plus a somewhat larger tiny number. Something more than half of US citizens didn’t vote.

    Trump’s first two appts are frighteningly bad. A alt-net moron and a fierce racist — for in the white house. Neither could have any conception of or respect for liberty of speech or obedience to law. Women are set back 40 years. Trump would treat any democratic woman opponent with jeering hooting derision. Pocohontas was such a phrase. We don’t know how this man will react to demonstrations once he has power. I am sickened by Obama’s refusal to say that it’s a democratic right to assemble and peacefully protest. I don’t hear and haven’t for years protests in democratic party leaders against the electoral college or gerrymandering.

    One truth is the democratic party has not stood up for its constituencies. Obamacare is very faulty — no public option even; Obama couldn’t even get that through. These vast trade agreements are very bad for the average person. He has been for privatizing the schools. I realize the Republicans would not cooperate with the slightest proposal he made but he threw away his first 100 days and his first two years when there was a democratic majority. As for the Clintons: they started mass incarceration (how could anyone have reported she had the black vote?), they killed welfare (have you ever seen some of the scenes in the supermarket that occur over food stamps), they allowed the controls over the banks to be erased. Who in the democratic party has been working against the electoral college, against gerrymandering? The democratic party will have to re-invent itself or it will disappear altogether. It holds few important offices around the US.


    • Livesey’s books are usually so good. I don’t know what happened here (hence I blame the editor). Thanks for the letter opener link! I think Obama has been the best president in my lifetime and it’s sad that Clinton didn’t win.


  4. Kat, I always wonder about earlier owners when I find uncut pages. I very gingerly use embroidery sheers to cut those pages open.
    The election results stiil have me depressed. Trump is so ill informed and unsuitable for the job. Change just to shake things up isn’t the way to govern…the next 4 years will be scary.


    • Embroidery shears is a good suggestion! Some of the pages in this book are cut, some uncut, so I don’t know what to make of it.
      I’ve never reacted quite like this to an election. I think it’s because of the global warming and other international problems as well as the rest. An excellent skit on Saturday Night Live about waiting for the election results. You can watch it on Youtube and it will make you laugh.


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