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The Missing World    by Margot Livesey order for
Missing World
by Margot Livesey
Order:  USA  Can
Penguin, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Anise Hollingshead

Hazel Ransome's world is missing. A victim of mild amnesia incurred as a result of a recent automobile accident, she emerges from a brief coma with no memory of the last three years of her life. Aside from the amnesia, she suffers from debilitating seizures brought on by the accident and thus requires constant care. Luckily she has a loving boyfriend who's all too willing to take care of her every need. Unfortunately Jonathan is actually her ex-boyfriend. He's seized upon her amnesia as a bizarre way to rewrite personal history. Hazel's parents, who weren't happy about the break-up, give him carte blanche to bring her home with him from the hospital; this seemingly innocent beginning soon turns into a labyrinth of lies and deception. 'Why am I doing this? he wondered, sitting on the edge of the bed. The answer perfumed the air, sweet as violets: because I can.'

Margot Livesey paints otherwise ordinary events and people with an underlying uneasiness, which is at times funny, but always slightly off-kilter. Jonathan becomes increasingly obsessed with the need to keep all knowledge of their break-up away from Hazel, and strives to keep the contaminating outer world apart from her; in effect, ensuring that the present world is missing to her as well. When a neighbor phones Hazel to say she's coming over later, Jonathon ponders 'He had done so well with her parents, with Maud . Were his hopes about to founder on some indiscreet middle-aged woman?'

Other characters are equally strange and insecure. Charlotte, an out of work, impoverished actress, lives an existence that is marginal at best. Every thought and action is played out like a script. The situations she gets into are amusing but painfully frustrating to readers at the same time. Freddie (a roofer) is a neurotic mess. Incredibly lazy, he has an aversion to anything he encounters that causes him a flashback to a previous traumatic experience. These two people are introduced early in the book, building up suspense about their future involvement with Jonathan and Hazel.

The language Livesey uses sings in our ears, drawing us on even when the journey becomes uncomfortable. This discomfort is not of a horrific nature, but instead is similar to the irritation felt when watching a movie whose actors are involved in extremely embarrassing situations. The story begins well and continues with energy most of the way, but loses steam near the end with an incongruous finale. The last encounter between Hazel and Jonathon is serious. In real life it would have deep emotional consequences, but Hazel shrugs it off and then behaves in a disconcertingly cold manner toward her rescuer, in a heretofore sympathetic performance. The author gives her readers an entertaining journey through The Missing World, though with a less than satisfactory ending.

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