Mercury, Margot Livesey: Book Review

Mercury Book Cover Mercury
Margot Livesey
Adult Fiction
Harper Perennial

Donald believes he knows all there is to know about seeing. An optometrist in suburban Boston, he is sure that he and his wife, Viv, who runs the local stables, are both devoted to their two children and to each other. Then Mercury—a gorgeous young thoroughbred with a murky past—arrives at Windy Hill and everything changes.

Mercury’s owner, Hilary, is a newcomer to town who has enrolled her daughter in riding lessons. When she brings Mercury to board at Windy Hill, everyone is struck by his beauty and prowess, particularly Viv. As she rides him, Viv begins to dream of competing again, embracing the ambitions that she had harbored, and relinquished, as a young woman. Her daydreams soon morph into consuming desire, and her infatuation with the thoroughbred escalates to obsession.

Donald may have 20/20 vision but he is slow to notice how profoundly Viv has changed and how these changes threaten their quiet, secure world. By the time he does, it is too late to stop the catastrophic collision of Viv’s ambitions and his own myopia.

At once a tense psychological drama and a taut emotional thriller exploring love, obsession, and the deceits that pull a family apart, Mercury is a riveting tour de force that showcases this “searingly intelligent writer at the height of her powers” (Jennifer Egan).  -Goodreads

This review contains quotes from the book

*Special thanks to Harper Perennial for allowing us to review Margot Livesey’s Mercury.

Margot Livesey‘s novel Mercury is a beautiful read, and I believe her book is made more intriguing by her ability to write about marriage in a new and exciting way from both the husband and wife’s perspective. In the first half of the novel, we start to see things from Donald’s viewpoint. Then, in turn, we get Viv’s side of things, and it all helps to understand what each of them experience as a couple, and independent of one another.

Donald is Viv’s husband and the main narrator who occupies more than half of the book, whereas Viv picks up the pieces in just one section. Both are made to reconnect and experience the same events, but they obviously have different ideas on what happens to them and their marriage as a result. Donald wants a mundane life: for him to have a fulfilled life, he would like to do the same thing every day and have the same priorities without any change at all. His wife, on the other hand, desires challenge. For me, it was hard to decide which I liked more (or less) because they are such polar opposites of each other. Donald is boring, but Viv can be just plain rude. So they were hard to interpret and understand at times, but that being said, it also makes this story more interesting. While I was reading I kept thinking to myself, how did these two last so long?

In the moment Mercury, a thoroughbred, shows up at their stables, we get to see their reactions independent of each other, which makes this dual-perspective more interesting. Mercury symbolizes the difference between Donald and Viv and what their marriage stands for. They both like different things and that comes to a halt when Mercury shows up. Still, Donald and Viv both run the local stables together in Boston, which is what led Mercury’s owner to bring the horse for boarding.

“Her ability to enter wholeheartedly into a cause or an activity is one of the many things I admire about her. Or, I should say, used to admire.”

— excerpt from Margot Livesey’s Mercury, on Donald talking about Viv.

However, Mercury changes everything. And I don’t say that lightly: Viv becomes very attached to this horse because it reminds her of when she used to compete herself. Viv starts to think about all the “what ifs” and hopes and dreams she once had when she was also a young rider. She has these visions for herself because all she wanted for her life was to compete. But that gets put aside when she marries Donald and they have children; it’s a typical thing that ruins most aspirations in a marriage (our responsibilities, that is). So it’s only natural for Viv to feel like Mercury is her ticket to regain that old flame that once sparked her ambition. Soon after she realizes this, she becomes completely obsessed with Mercury, which drives a wedge between her and Donald.

“At the gate Mercury fixed his large dark eyes on me and nickered softly. Then he scraped the ground, twice, with his right front hoof, choosing me.”

— excerpt from Margot Livesey’s Mercury, on Viv looking at Mercury.

Her obsession with the horse eventually takes a toll on Donald as well as their marriage. She becomes so invested in this horse that she loses sight of what is really going on around her, namely her marriage. Donald realizes that his wife is troubled by this new fixation but he also understands that he may be too late in rescuing her. He realizes he cannot relieve her from her own objectives: a woman whose horse comes before wedlock. It also doesn’t help their marriage that Donald is so complacent living an average lifestyle rather than the exciting one Viv has created for herself, and herself alone. She becomes the complete opposite of what Donald desires.

“I am pleased by an average day,” he observes, “and I know I am neither great nor awesome.”

— excerpt from Margot Livesey’s Mercury, on Viv looking at Mercury.

Personally, I felt her obsession with Mercury made the story more interesting because you do not read many novels where a woman’s existence becomes utterly consumed by an animal. On another level, you can relate to Viv because she represents what happens when you put your dreams aside at the expense of family, of how consequential it all can be. But when Mercury comes to the stables, Viv realizes that this could be her time. Everyone wants a chance to be able to make their dreams come true, but some people go a little crazy trying to make that happen, as Viv does.

I would recommend Livesey’s book to anyone looking for something with a lot of drama but enough sensibility to make it a great summer read. This book does an excellent job a providing a real perspective on how to deal with and cope with your partner when they begin to go off the deep end. Mercury kept me on my toes till the very last page, so I know you will not want to miss it, either.

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Jessica Duffield
the authorJessica Duffield
Contributing Writer
I am a sophomore in college. Books are my passion and I hope to work in book publishing once I graduate.