cover image The Road from Belhaven

The Road from Belhaven

Margot Livesey. Knopf, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-0-593-53704-6

In the powerful latest from Livesey (The Boy in the Field), an orphan raised on her grandparents’ Belhaven farm in 19th-century Scotland struggles with her secret gift of second sight. Lizzie Craig sees images of calamities before they occur (a person felled by a swarm of bees, an animal dying). To her dismay, her warnings go unheeded. When she’s 16, a young tailor’s apprentice named Louis Hunter visits Belhaven from Glasgow. Lizzy falls in love with Louis and soon joins him in Glasgow, where she takes a position as a housemaid. Though she’s devoted to him, he’s reluctant to marry, even after Lizzy gets pregnant. With the sociological complexity of an Edith Wharton novel, Livesey portrays Lizzy butting up against gendered restrictions on her freedom, such as her inability to inherit Belhaven from her grandparents. After several devastating blows, Lizzy finally manages to find her path by using her gift. Sure-handed depictions of nature abound (“winter came like a fist”), as do textured glimpses of Lizzie’s inner life (“She felt a sudden longing for this person she did not remember who could make thrushes sing and had boldly run away to Gretna Green”). The vitality of Glaswegian life is captured with scenes at the Tam O’ Shanter Tavern, where Louis occasionally sings and Lizzy takes part in dances and dramas. Throughout, Livesey’s lyrical perfection comes at no expense to the plot, which barrels like a runaway train. This is a gem. Agent: Amanda Urban, CAA. (Feb.)

This review has been updated for clarity.