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The Missing World
ISBN 0436276135 / 9780436276132 / 0-436-27613-5
Publisher Alfred a Knopf Inc
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Margot Livesey is an artist of alluring unease. Enter London through her looking glass, if you dare; once you do, it's doubtful you'll want to emerge. In her ruthlessly funny third novel, The Missing World , a modern Rapunzel is imprisoned in a none-too-tall Highbury house after losing much of her memory in an accident. Hazel's captor? The beekeeping insurance adjuster with whom she used to live. Jonathan is now determined to restore their relationship, even if he has to embalm it in lies: "Why am I doing this? he wondered, sitting on the edge of the bed. The answer perfumed the air, sweet as violets: because I can." Hazel's rescuers? Freddie, a black American roofer who would give anything "for a decent, ordinary phobia," and Charlotte, a rackety actress who's been on a sponging odyssey around London ever since her boyfriend left her and became a success: "Charlotte had perfected a look of keen interest when people insisted on telling her how well he was doing." And then there's Maud, who has her own reasons for keeping her best friend, Hazel, in the dark, and Mr. Early, an entirely bald designer of mannequin heads.
How these wildly different individuals converge is only one of The Missing World 's many exhilarations. Livesey slowly, tantalizingly has her characters reveal themselves as they bump up against reality. She also has an eye--and a perfect ear--for evasions and illusion. Jonathan is particularly adept at turning wish fulfilment into an extreme sport, convincing himself that subterfuge is the only way to go:
He wanted Hazel better, of course, but wasn't that like desiring his own banishment? What he really wanted was for her to recover not merely from the accident but from the delusions that had carried her away from him.
Energy, as Blake puts it, is eternal delight, and with its plethora of farcical entrances and exits, The Missing World has energy to burn. Yet just as often Livesey conquers by oddball understatement. Emerging from her coma, Hazel "opened her eyes and gazed up at the four of them. The colour of her irises had deepened, as if the long twilight of the last week had taken up permanent residence in her brain." With her predilection for the narrative ambush, Livesey has been likened to PD James and Patricia Highsmith--but she may even exceed these grandes dames in this brilliant exploration of where devotion ends and danger begins. --Kerry Fried, Amazon.com [via]