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Originally published Friday, June 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Book review

"The House on Fortune Street" an elegant fusion of perspectives

In "The House on Fortune Street," a quartet of ingeniously linked stories, Margot Livesey has created a literary "Rashomon," where the same events are seen in retrospect, from different points of view.

Special to The Seattle Times

"The House on Fortune Street"

by Margot Livesey

HarperCollins, 311 pp., $24.95

In "The House on Fortune Street," a quartet of ingeniously linked stories, Margot Livesey has created a literary "Rashomon," where the same events are seen in retrospect, from different points of view. Added to the multiple perspectives, Livesey pays subtle and clever homage to literary figures as well.

Dara McLeod is the centerpiece of the novel, along with her friend Abigail, who inherits the house where both women live for a time. They met at university and, despite their vast differences, struck up a lasting friendship of sorts. Dara is now a therapist, with small capacity for realistic judgment or self-reflection; Abigail is an actress who takes what she wants and never looks back.

In the first segment, Sean Wyman, Abigail's boyfriend, is an earnest student of Keats who has fallen under Abigail's spell. He has left his wife, is stuck in his work and, finally, is the recipient of a disturbing letter that changes his life with Abigail.

In the second section, Dara's childhood is explored. Her father has a smarmy but no-touching attraction to little girls, a la Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll). He takes an inappropriate picture of one of Dara's friends, with devastating results.

In part three, Dara meets a violinist, Edward, and falls madly in love with him, ignoring the fact that he is still living with his ex-girlfriend and that they have a child together. Faint echoes of Jane Eyre here. In fairness to Dara, Edward does keep insisting that he will leave his current arrangement when... , and Dara believes him.

The last part, told by Abigail, is filled with references to Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations." We know Dara's endgame at the conclusion of part one, and by the end of the novel, everything fits. Subtle and/or startling revelations are made, couched in Livesey's clever use of other authors' stories written long ago, interlaced with the contemporary lives of Dara, Abigail, Sean and Edward.

It all comes together once we know what depths of self-deception, disloyalty and disregard for the feelings of others this quartet is capable of. Four people, four stories add up to one pithy tale, told with elegance.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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