The Boy in the Field by Margot Livesey

It doesn’t feel fair to say I didn’t like this much. There are a lot of good things about it, and the general area–adolescents coining to terms in different ways with violence and betrayal–is ever-fruitful. It even has whodunit aspect, which can really propel an otherwise-dragging literary novel. The characters are (mostly) vivid and the prose is strong. And yet.

I think my real problem is that each of the three siblings portrayed here was to confined to whatever particular thing was troubling him or her, and their manifestations were overly convenient. Zoe is doing love and intimacy, so she both discovers her parents’ affair and gets involved a romance with an inconvenient subject. Matthew is doing violence, so he obsessively hunts for the perpetrator of a crime, is haunted by memories of a friend’s abusive father, and studies fencing. And Duncan, the youngest, both adopts a dog from an owner who may or may not be coming back and searches out his birth mother.

It starts with an incident with the three of them together, and ends with a huge costume ball where almost every character shows up and things get much more resolved than they should. Then it goes even farther and gives us an 8-years-later epilogue that ties everything up even more neatly. And–horror of horrors–it has a character who gets obsessed with a particular philosopher and makes proclamations about what he would’ve said about the various situations. (Usually when writers do this is Schopenhauer. This time it’s Spinoza.)

Interesting ideas, I guess, but far too neatly constructed for my taste.

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