Saturday, August 15, 2020

"The Boy in the Field"

Margot Livesey grew up in a boys’ private school in the Scottish Highlands where her father taught, and her mother, Eva, was the school nurse. After taking a B.A. in English and philosophy at the University of York in England she spent most of her twenties working in shops and restaurants and learning to write. Her first book, a collection of stories called Learning By Heart, was published by Penguin Canada in 1986. Since then Livesey has published the novels Homework, Criminals, The Missing World, Eva Moves the Furniture, Banishing Verona, The House on Fortune Street, The Flight of Gemma Hardy, and Mercury.

Livesey applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, her ninth, The Boy in the Field, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Boy in The Field is the opening of section 12, from the point of view of seventeen-year-old Matthew. It shows him at a fencing lesson with a new opponent, Leon. At first he thinks Leon is a very clumsy opponent whom it will be easy to defeat but he soon discovers "that it was Leon’s very lack of grace, his awkward footwork, his faltering lunges that made it hard to anticipate his next move.”

I think page 69 gives a good sense of Matthew, of his intelligence and his powers of observation, but you learn nothing about his siblings - Duncan and Zoe - with whom he shares the novel. And you learn nothing about his quest to find the man who attacked the boy in the field.

One of my ambitions for the novel was to show how differently the three teenage siblings experience the same event. In that way page 69 does give a good idea of the novel although it suggests, misleadingly, that Matthew is the hero.

When I applied this test to Willa Cather’s Lucy Gayheart and Megha Majumdar’s The Burning, I was relieved to discover it worked in the same way, giving me a good sense of the author’s voice and of some of her characters, but not giving me access to the whole arc of the novel.
Visit Margot Livesey's website and Facebook page.

Q&A with Margot Livesey.

--Marshal Zeringue