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Std edition When an interest becomes obsession
License: Public Domain
Margot Livesey’s new book, Mercury, is a story of love and obsession—but not in the way you’d expect. Don, a Scottish optometrist living in suburban Boston, is too immersed in mourning his father’s recent death from Parkinson’s to notice that his wife Viv has utterly fallen for Mercury, a new horse at the riding stables she manages. Viv’s obsession with Mercury spins out of control, leading to an act of violence that nobody could have predicted. Mercury is Livesey at her best: a subtle investigation of a family coming apart, of secrets and separateness, of blindness and blinkered sight.
I think we all know someone who is besotted with horses. Are you that person? Between the ages of 9 and 14, yes. I rode the Highland ponies at the nearby farm as often as I could and read endless books about girls and gymkhanas. Nowadays I seldom ride but I do remain fascinated by the world of horses. Or should I say the worlds of horses. There’s a big difference between a professional riding stables, where most of the horses are being trained to compete, and the kind of stables Viv and her friend Claudia run.
What kind of research did you do for this book? A friend let me accompany her to the stables where she rode. I would follow her around, observe her lessons, visit the horses and talk to the other riders and the people who worked in the barns. And then, being a writer, I also read omnivorously. Three books that were particularly helpful were Enid Bagnold’s National Velvet, Jane Smiley’s Horse Heaven and Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand. Each gave me wonderful insights into horses and into the relations between horses and humans.
I also spent a good deal of time questioning my optometrist, talking to blind people and reading books about vision and blindness. I read several illuminating memoirs by men who had gone blind as adults; each recorded a long period of passionate denial when, although the author could see less and less, he was continuing to act like a sighted person—bicycling, going to films, carelessly crossing roads. Eventually each had to admit his failing vision and learn how to be blind.
Do you think there was a moment when Don could have intervened, before Viv’s feelings for Mercury went from interest to obsession? I find that line between interest, which seems like a good thing, and obsession, which seems questionable, fascinating. I am not sure if Donald could have intervened—Mercury is a fantastic athlete, a fantastic opportunity—but that he is oblivious to Viv's unhappiness, to her feeling of being stuck, does help to propel her across that line.
I find that line between interest, which seems like a good thing, and obsession, which seems questionable, fascinating.
This is your first book to take place completely in the United States. Was that something you had planned to do? Yes. I do spend a lot of time here and I did want to write a novel set here, to make use of the New England landscape. Although a version of the plot could take place in Britain, the actual details, to my mind, could only happen in the States.
As a novel, Mercury is very open-ended. Have you thought about what happens to the characters after the novel ends? I have, and I hope the reader will too.
As a married person, I found this novel very unsettling. There is a mystery here, but it’s the mystery of ever really knowing another person. As a novelist, how do you decide what to show and what to keep secret? Reupload ado stunt cars 2 new version.
I think my husband found the novel unsettling too. For me one of the questions that propels the novel is what happens in a long relationship when one person changes their opinions, their worldview if you will, and the other doesn’t. I was very interested in exploring how this change can become a kind of infidelity. As a novelist, I wanted to suggest how just keeping something secret can turn an innocent activity—spending more time training Mercury—into something more toxic. Both Viv and Donald are keeping secrets not just from each other but from themselves. I tried to hint at some of those secrets but also to allow the characters, like the people around us, a certain amount of mystery.
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