Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Homework by Margo Livesey (1990)

Another volume I randomly picked up at the library and continuing my London theme, I guess.  Although the bulk of this novel takes place in Edinburgh, a good part of the beginning of the novel is in London.

The story is a first-person account by Celia, a textbook editor, of her love life and two major romances, as well as a bit about her career, but the cornerstone of the story is her difficult relationship with the 10-year-old daughter of her second, much more serious boyfriend, Stephen.  Celia meets Stephen after she moves to Edinburgh for a new job after having a disastrously one-sided relationship with a very selfish man in London.

She soon discovers that Jenny, Stephen's daughter, is not the lovely little girl that her father makes her out to be; Jenny is not pleased about the new situation and proves to be very devious about showing her displeasure to Celia.  A lot of tension builds up between Jenny and Celia and this puts pressure on her relationship with Stephen.

I enjoyed this novel, for several reasons.  First of all, the peculiarly quaint, almost old-fashioned feel to it - reading it 25 years after publication, you really feel that you are going back to an older, more simpler time, most evident in the descriptions of daily life - for example where Celia has to pull over to a public telephone to reach Stephen (no cell phones!) - and in Celia's office - an assistant who has to type up manuscripts for her!

I also enjoyed the author's detailed description of London and Edinburgh, as well as the various side characters in the novel, who all rang true as regular people.

Finally, the tension between Celia and Jenny, and wondering what mean prank the little girl was going to spring on her new stepmother next created a feeling of suspense in the novel which made it very difficult to put down.  The only thing I found a bit disappointing was the ending - no twist and no decisive action from Celia.  But perhaps this is more in keeping with the novel's quaint realism.  Other than that, it was an engaging read.

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