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Homework: A Novel [Paperback]

Margot Livesey
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 8 2001
Celia Gilchrist believes that she has finally found the right man in Stephen, but when she moves in with Stephen and his young daughter Jenny, things begin to go subtly, menacingly wrong. Money disappears, a sweater is ruined, small, common-place lies escalate into awkward confrontations. Livesey’s debut novel, now back in print, is a chilling portrait of jealousy and fear, devotion, and the wish to be loved.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

A child's capacity for evil, favorite subject of much popular entertainment, is the theme of Livesey's ( Learning by Heart ) drably pedestrian though cleanly written tale. In order to escape a painful entanglement with an unfaithful lover in London, Celia Gilchrist, a thirty-something editor of unremarkable attributes, accepts a job in Edinburgh. Her life seems blissfully transformed when she embarks on a warm, trusting relationship with Stephen, a high school teacher separated from his wife. But this Edenic interlude proves short-lived: Stephen's wife, Helen, accepts a job in Paris, leaving their 10-year-old daughter, Jenny, to live with Stephen and Celia, who becomes convinced that Jenny is conniving at her removal. Because Stephen refuses to hear ill of his daughter, Celia is helpless to stymie Jenny's onslaught of petty tricks. Yet it's difficult to empathize with her plight, as Celia--like all of the characters here--is superficially drawn and surrounded by bland descriptive prose that makes her story even drearier. This first novel displays workmanlike construction rather than promise.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Though initially it appears to be a simple love story, this is a sinister if well-conceived tale, fraught with the terror created by the presence of evil. Livesey's spare prose skillfully highlights nuances, augmenting that terror. Unmarried lovers Celia and Stephen attempt to create a home and build a life together, but their efforts are challenged by Stephen's nine-year-old daughter, Jenny, a malevolent child consumed by jealousy, hatred, and despair. Though Celia, a textbook editor, is intelligent, sensitive, and caring, she is emotionally hampered by low self-esteem and limited expectations and fails to acknowledge Jenny's cruelty until it is almost too late. The final agony triggers subtle changes in the lives of all concerned. Highly recommended.
- Ellen R. Cohen, Rockville, Md.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars PUT IT IN PERSEPCTIVE... Feb. 18 2003
Format:Paperback
...HOMEWORK is, after all, Margot Livesey's first novel. Those of us who have had the pleasure of reading her others have come to expect high quality from her - her talent for suspense shines so very brightly in CRIMINALS and THE MISSING WORLD, and her character development and storytelling, so evident in her masterpiece (my opinion) EVA MOVES THE FURNITURE, are stunning. HOMEWORK has its own bright moments - even for such a dark story. The tension that is present in the family's situation - a separated father with a bright daughter who resents the presence of a new woman in his life - is brilliantly portrayed and built upon. The psychological aspects of the story are seemingly well-researched and illuminated - and the frustration on the part of Celia (the 'intruder' in her potential stepdaughter's life) - is palpable and fraught with tension, as well as the very real sense of terror that she experiences when she realizes how deeply the young girl's feelings run. When 'things begin to happen' around the house, she becomes more and more aware of the lengths to which the girl will go to make her look bad, to make her feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. She sees Celia's presence in her father's life as a drain on the love that she wants for herself - and she will evidently go to extravagant lengths to drive Celia out of the house.
Livesey's prose is jewel-like in its precision - the tension in this story builds imperceptibly, almost excruciatingly so. Comparisons have been drawn in several places to Hitchcock's films - and that's not completely inappropriate here, although I think it's much more developed in THE MISSING WORLD and CRIMINALS. The story might not end in a manner to suit every reader - but wouldn't that be boring, if every book we read wound up exactly as we expected/wanted...? Margot Livesey is a fine writer - and this novel is gripping and entertaining.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing Sept. 12 2002
By Sonja
Format:Paperback
I eagerly picked up this book after reading another by Livesey and must say I am disappointed. While her writing is still as superb as ever, the way this story unfolded left me a bit bored.
This story is about a woman who is lucky to meet the man of her dreams, but is unlucky in that his daughter is an angelic menace. Celia is certain that Jenny (the daughter) hates her and wants to get rid of her, but she can't seem to convince anyone else of that fact.
The difficult part I had with this book is that it doesn't come across as a psychological thriller. Perhaps that is because of my background - I have been neither a stepdaughter nor potential stepmother. Perhaps it is because when I think psychological thriller I think on the level of Stephen King or Dean Koontz. The other problem I had with this story is the ending - I would have felt more satisfaction/resolution after reading this story had there been an additional chapter, where Celia more directly receives vindication, either from her boyfriend or her friends.
It was also difficult to really support Celia and get to the point where you really are rooting for her. Yes, she's had a rough life and many disappointments in love. All the same, a heroine more apt to stand up for herself or one who at least had one friend that supported her 'wacky' notions would have been more welcomed.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A complex, emotional story that rings true Dec 9 2002
Format:Paperback
I don't understand how anyone could find this story boring. While not action-packed, this book provides a rich, realistic portrait of a child who has learned how to manipulate adults to get her way. The adults, while seemingly in control of the situation, are blinded to reality by their own preconceptions and their expectation that a child could not act with such calculating malice. And while Jenny is cruel and calculating beyond what one would expect from a child, her ways of lashing out ring true as things a child would choose to do. Although there is no definitive vindication at the end, it's clear that Jenny's actions will come to light. It took me a good hour after finishing this book to detach from the strong emotions it brought forth. I was furious with Jenny and horrified at her final act against Celia. A book that makes one live within its world is a success.
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