Mercury took me by surprise, when I read it back in April. It’s a slow moving, yet enthralling, exploration of love, marriage, obsession, and deceit. With a side of crime.
When the opportunity arose to ask Margot Livesey some questions, I jumped at the chance.
How would you describe Mercury in five words?
Ambition, horses, myopia, infidelity, family.
The novel is broken into three sections; Donald’s perspective, Viv’s perspective and then Donald’s again. How important was it that we experience things from Viv’s point of view?
I had originally conceived of the novel as being told entirely from Donald’s point of view – an optometrist who loses sight of his wife – but as Viv began to behave more and more badly, it seemed essential that the reader get her point of view and can understand why she make the choices she does.
What drew you to write about horses in Mercury?
I grew up on the edge of the Scottish Highlands, riding half broken ponies at a nearby farm. Later I had the opportunity to ride a wonderfully well-trained horse – a gelding named Ginger – and glimpsed what that could be like. And I read many, many books about horses, ranging from National Velvet to Jilly Cooper’s latest. When I decided to write about an ambitious woman, I wanted her ambition to be focused on something more questionable than e.g. finding a cure for diabetes. Horses, which inspire huge devotion in some people and leave others cold, seemed the perfect focus for Viv. And I loved getting to visit various stables.
Writing is a solitary process. Do you have a routine so that you don’t get completely lost in the world(s) you’re creating?
On a good day I go to my desk as soon as I get up and stay there, with trips to the kitchen for coffee and sustenance, until lunch-time. I write at a computer that is never allowed to go online so when I do need to check a fact – did Henry VIII have a parrot? – I have to go to my laptop in another room. Sadly I seldom have a chance to get lost in the worlds I’m trying to create. Usually the need to respond to my students, pay my bills, and fix the roof, calls me back to this world.
I love hearing what other people are passionate about reading, even if they can’t narrow it down to a favourite. Which book do you wish you thrust into the arms of strangers and demand they read it immediately?
I think everyone should stop and read Elizabeth Bowen’s The House in Paris. The two children at the heart of the novel are so fierce and relentless – they re-enact King Lear every day – and Bowen writes wonderfully about romantic passion. So much is left unsaid between her various lovers.
Mercury by Margot Livesey is published by Sceptre, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton, and is available in paperback and ebook format.