The Big Question Asked in Criminals by Margot Livesey

The unthinkable is happening. A bookstore that I have frequented since I was a child is going out of business. When I was in the area last weekend I was told of a sale where I could fill an entire shopping bag of books for $10. Well as you may have guessed, I walked out with twelve.

One of them was perfect for  Task 8 The Read Harder Challenge: Read a book originally published in the decade you were born. Criminals by Margot Livesey was on the bottom shelve with a bunch of mysteries. In fact, it was unlikely I would have ever picked it up had it not been for this sale.

The original 1997 cover.

This book, published in 1997, begins with Ewan on a train from London going to see his sister in Scotland. At a pitstop he finds a baby in the gents toilet and picks her up. Ewan returns to Scotland and leaves the baby with his sister, Mollie who has just broken up with her husband of ten years.  Ewan assumes Mollie will turn the baby over to the authorities in Perth but she decides to keep the baby. All the while, a mother is missing her child.

The 270-page story tells a complex tale that weaves in elements of class, mental illness, and an overarching essential question. When do our good intentions become criminal acts?

Even though this book was published almost twenty years ago, the heart of it still resonates even today. At times I thought that the book moved a little slowly and at times I thought that maybe it would have worked better as a short story. But without those three different points of view, and the background they provided, the chilling and horrifying conclusion wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting. In the end, I walked away from this book with more questions about society than the story itself.

This book was also great because it was a great lesson for me as a writer. I took from this book a few very important notes. The first being that not all stories have to involve expanses of time. The story here took place in a week. The second is how Livesey handles different points of view. She not only weaves them together really well but she does it with almost no overlap. If Mollie gets a call from Ewan in one page, we don’t get the call verbatim again from Ewan’s point of point of view.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (Although the end was brilliant I do believe that the rest of the novel could have been better paced. Overall a very literary and very perplexing read that lets you think about societal perceptions. )

Tasks The Book Can Apply to For #ReadHarder

  • Task 8: Read a Book Published in the Decade You Were Born (1990s)
  • Task 21: Read a Book About Politics (This one might be a stretch but it does talk about the UK dole and the definition of criminal and capability so I think you can make a case if you really want an interesting read.)

What are you favorite books that really make you think? Were they simple and set in present day? Or something with a more dystopian vibe? Recommend it in the comments below.

Published by Lauren Busser

Lauren Busser is a fiction writer and essayist. She is an associate editor at Tell-Tale TV, where she writes about all things tv. She has had fiction appear in five : 2 : one magazine’s #thesideshow and her nonfiction has appeared in Bitch Media and The Hartford Courant. You can find her talking about tv, film, and knitting on Twitter @LaurenBusser.

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