The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Review | ‘The Road from Belhaven’ tells a well-crafted coming-of-age story

Author and Iowa Writers’ Workshop professor Margot Livesey’s new novel tells the story of Lizzie Craig as she navigates the complexities of young adulthood in 19th-century Scotland.
Cody Blissett
Photo illustration by Cody Blissett

As someone who enjoys her share of historical fiction — as well as a dash of the supernatural — I was excited to dive into “The Road from Belhaven.” After reading, I can confidently say my excitement paid off. The book delivered a charming and thought-provoking story that is sure to stick with me for years to come.

Written by Margot Livesey, a Scottish author and fiction professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the novel tells the story of Lizzie Craig, an orphan girl who has spent her life working on her grandparents’ farm in 19th-century Scotland.

However, the young girl’s life is soon upended when her older sister arrives, upending everything Lizzie had ever known about her family and herself.

The protagonist’s life is further complicated by the visions — or “pictures” — she receives in the novel which reveals Lizzie’s future but do not offer ways to change the fates of the people involved.

As for Lizzie herself — where do I even start?

Lizzie Craig was a flawed, thoroughly human main character. As I followed her through the stages of her early life, I couldn’t help but feel sympathetic for her when she was forced to deal with unfair situations, many of which were influenced by the difficult gender standards of her time.

Though I felt sympathy for her character, there were also several times I found myself shaking my head at the terrible and utterly selfish choices she made. Naive and blinded by love; that’s how I would describe Lizzie once she journeys to the city of Glasgow and leaves her life on the farm behind.

However, Lizzie is accompanied by an incredibly realistic cast of characters, my favorite of which has to be her friend Tom who appears for a few chapters near the end of the book.

Without spoiling anything, I found Tom to be the epitome of a good friend. He was calm, supportive, and friendly towards Lizzie, even offering her a place to stay when she was going through a tough time.

While the characters are incredibly fun and vibrant, it is the writing that drew me into the book. Livesey weaves her prose in a captivating way that is reminiscent of a fairy tale.

Both the settings of Belhaven farm and the bustling city of Glasgow were described with visual detail, allowing me to feel like I was alongside Lizzie. When Livesey described the sights and smells of the Lilac Cottage, for example, I could envision myself sitting with Lizzie’s grandparents around their kitchen table, or relaxing by the fireplace.

Lizzie’s inner monologue was engaging as well. Her thoughts began to mature alongside her physical growth with age, though, at the same time, she never grew out of her whimsical nature.

Which, I suppose, makes sense for a protagonist who is only in her early twenties by the end of the book.

Speaking of the end of the book, I wanted more. By the time I turned the last page, I was invested in Lizzie Craig — flaws and all — and wanted to know what her life was going to be like now that she was finally settled down.

If Livesey so desired, she could have strung me along for another 200 pages, allowing me to stay entwined with the lives of Lizzie and her family a little longer. Instead, the book stopped once Lizzie found her future; I suppose that in itself is a beautiful concept.

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Riley Dunn
Riley Dunn, Arts Reporter
Riley Dunn is a first-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in English and Creative Writing and Journalism and Mass Communications. Prior to her time at the DI, Riley interned for Swimming World Magazine.
Cody Blissett
Cody Blissett, Visuals Editor
Cody Blissett is a visual editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a third year student at the University of Iowa studying cinema and screenwriting. This is his first year working for The Daily Iowan.