As I’m sure many of my fellow readers do, too, I have an extensive and ever-rotating list of favorite authors. I look forward to reading their new works and enjoy exploring their back lists of novels and stories. Frequently, I’ll discover a new writer I enjoy and immediately want to read everything he or she has ever written. (Bonus: The Library feeds my addiction, for free!)
At the same time, I have a very finite, fixed list of my “hardback favorites”—authors for whom I will rush out and buy the hardback copy of their newest work as soon as it is published, sometimes counting down the days until its pub date on my desk calendar. Their books live in a special bookcase at my house, and I re-read them not infrequently, always noticing something about the story or the writing that I did not notice before (a mark, I think, of a great book).
One of my “hardback favorites” is the Scottish-born writer, Margot Livesey. I’m just about finished with her newest novel, The Flight of Gemma Hardy, and I already want to heartily recommend it! Inspired by Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, The Flight of Gemma Hardy follows its namesake character as she struggles to make her own way and find her place in the world in late-1950s and early-1960s Scotland, as second-wave feminism is just starting to influence an increasingly modern, post-WWII society. You don’t have to take my word for how great this novel is: Check out these reviews from the New York Times Book Review and the Seattle Times.
What I appreciate so much about Livesey’s writing is its thoughtfulness—you get the sense that each word is deliberately and carefully chosen. Her descriptions are rich and evocative without being effusive, flowery, or overwrought. Her characters are strong-willed and complex, her plots carefully crafted. What I appreciate most about Livesey’s writing is its quietness. She’s not a flashy writer, but each sentence is important, each detail holds meaning, each character--however minor--is memorable. As a reader, finishing a paragraph, a chapter, a whole book of hers is incredibly satisfying. As much as I admire linguistic acrobatics and inventive toying with structure, a classically well-told story with emotionally resonant and honestly drawn characters will get me every time.
The Free Library has copies of nearly all of Livesey’s back list, and I encourage you to check her out, if you’re looking for a good novel to read! (The House on Fortune Street is a particular favorite of mine.) You can also check out her Q&A with this very blog from 2008 when she visited the Free Library for the Philadelphia Book Festival. And, of course, chime in in the comments with your thoughts on Margot Livesey’s writing or with your own recommendations and “hardback favorites!”