A main theme of Donna Morrissey’s fifth novel is the fine line between secrets and lies. Every character has something to hide, whether out of malice, greed, or simply self-preservation and privacy. The pattern of deception is set from the opening pages, and upon these foundations Morrissey constructs a plot of mystery and discovery. While the novel’s revelations are predictable, in Livvy Higgs Morrissey creates a sympathetic protagonist whose confrontation with her family’s dark truths is fraught with grief, betrayal, and self-doubt.
The Deception of Livvy Higgs straddles two time periods and settings. In 2009, the elderly Livvy, ailing in her Halifax home, dreams of her childhood on Newfoundland’s French Shore in the 1930s and ’40s. Morrissey has become known for creating vivid settings – small Newfoundland outports that are almost characters themselves. Here, by contrast, Halifax and the village of Sables d’Or are simply backdrops onto which Livvy’s losses are drawn. At times the novel’s exposition is laboured, yet when Livvy loses her mother, struggles in school, and rebels against her cold father, one cannot help but feel the sting of her loneliness and longing.
The novel contains startling images that stand out for their power and imagination. Livvy describes her vain and controlling Grandmother Creed as trying to “slip her own aged bones inside of Mother’s and wear the youthful flesh of her daughter as others wore a store-bought dress,” a vivid metaphor that is just right in its chilling calculation. Morrissey has preserved her unique voice in this work, a voice rich in vernacular yet never shy of lofty, dramatic turns of phrase that create a sweeping, romantic atmosphere.
The Deception of Livvy Higgs does not live up to the depth and emotional complexity of 2005’s Sylvanus Now, which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Yet Morrissey’s latest effort reaffirms her ability to give voice to female characters whose secrets keep us turning pages.