The discovery of a random crime leads to an empathic exploration of family, connection and creativity in Margot Livesey’s ninth novel, The Boy in the Field.
Walking home from school outside of Oxford, England, siblings Matthew, Zoe and Duncan Lang find Karel Lustig lying in a field, stabbed and left for dead. Their intervention saves his life, but it also sends each of them on a voyage of self-discovery. The oldest, Matthew, avidly follows the police investigation but also seeks out Karel’s family and is discomfited by their complicated dynamic, especially when Karel’s hostile older brother demands that Matthew assist him in finding his brother’s assailant. At 16, Zoe is discovering the potency of her own sexuality and is bored by boys her own age, so she pursues an American Ph.D. student at the neighboring college. Adopted as a baby, 13-year-old Duncan announces that he needs to find his birth mother and seeks permission from everyone in the family before trying to contact her. As the young people pursue their separate paths, their parents, Betsy and Hal, have their own problems, as their marriage is strained by Hal’s affair and Betsy’s withdrawal into her studies.
From her earliest work, Livesey has displayed an interest in how individuals cope with the physical and psychic space left by missing family members. Livesey’s excitement over her own discovery of family in Australia, after she believed she had no living relatives on her mother’s side, is reflected in Duncan’s search for the woman he calls his “first mother.”
It’s not the solving of the crime that moves the plot along—the discovery of Karel’s attacker is anticlimactic at best—but rather the quiet way Livesey explores the enduring and, in this case, elastic bonds of family love, even in the most stressful situations. Filled with detailed observation and a precisely delineated plot, The Boy in the Field will please readers who enjoy coming-of-age stories written with psychological precision and empathy.