I knew The Deception of Livvy Higgs was going to break my heart from the opening chapter. Canadian author Donna Morrissey has done it to me before - her prize winning first novel Kit's Law, is a favourite of mine.
Livvy Higgs is an eighty year old woman living alone in Halifax. Livvy is growing tired, she seems to be losing track of time and can't keep up with her day to day chores. As a winter storm batters the city, Livvy lies down just to rest a bit. But Livvy is more than just tired - in fact she is having a series of mini heart attacks. And as she drifts in and out of consciousness, she dreams....
"If there's one good thing age has taken from me, it's the burden of memories. In the past eighty years they've burned themselves out, leaving little more than a spattering of images that dim and glow like embers in the receding path of the fire they once were."
But, the memories are returning as she weakens. She dreams of the past and her life and what led her to the house she lives in. We are transported back to 1930's Newfoundland where young Livvy lives with her mother Cecile and shopkeeper father Durwin in the French outport of Sables d'Or. There are unspoken undercurrents between her parents and hints of a deal between her father and her maternal Grandmother Creed - despite the fact that they despise each other. Solace for Livvy and her mother is found in the raucous household of Missus Louis. The house is overrun with children, noise, food, chores, animals....and love.
Livvy's present day neighbour Gen, a single mom to young Ronny, checks on Livvy as she tries to venture out, but doesn't realize that she is ill. Gen has her own set of problems.
The story is told from past to present with Livvy uncovering and remembering more and more of her life. Livvy has been subjected to secrets, lies and manipulation since she was a small child.
"I sit digging at my palms, digging out nuggets of stories Mother seamed into my bones, I chink them into being, like a miner, and they fall onto my lap like ill-fitting pieces that fossilized before truth set them right. I search amongst them for the girl cloaking herself against a too horrible truth and who curls now inside the silence of an old woman's heart, her feelings too deep to be told."
Morrissey's prose just grab me and squeeze. They are raw and powerful, painting vivid pictures and evoke such strong emotions. Livvy's bewilderment, heartache, anger and reclamation of her life made my heart ache.
Livvy was the character who touched me the most - I think she reminded me a bit of my own gran, but all of the players were just as well drawn. I wanted to stay and visit with the boisterous Louis family, shout at her father, console her mother and dance with Henri.
Morrissey weaves much historical detail into her tale. The history of the shipping trade in Newfoundland and the importance of the Halifax Harbour during the war provided a rich backdrop to Livvy's story. Having visited Halifax last summer, I was able to vividly picture what Morrissey was describing. It really brought the book to life for me.
The Deception of Livvy Higgs stayed with me long after I turned the last page. This is one I'll definitely be recommending. Read an excerpt of The Deception of Livvy Higgs.
Donna Morrissey is the award-winning author of Kit’s Law, Downhill Chance, What They Wanted, and Sylvanus Now, which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. She recently wrote a children’s book, Cross Katie Kross, illustrated by her daughter, Bridget. Morrissey grew up in The Beaches, a small fishing outport in Newfoundland, and now lives in Halifax.
You can find Donna Morrissey on Facebook.