Written by Margot Livesey
Margot Livesey has explained how “Eva Moves the Furniture” (2001) came about again and again, because interviewers invariably ask her about its genesis. The story is quite unlike anything Livesey has written before or after. Her book, after all, concerns a young woman growing up in Scotland in the years around World War II
who is frequently visited by two ghosts. They periodically appear to her as helpers, but they also can meddle in her life when things don’t please them. Her explanation of the roots of the book and why it took her 12 years to finish is a great story itself.
As a child Livesey lived with her parents at the edge of the Scottish Highlands at the boys’ boarding school where her father taught geography and her mother was the school nurse. Livesey’s mother, Eva, died of cancer when the daughter was just 2 1/2. Livesey grew up hearing stories about her mother, but the ones that always sparked her writer’s imagination were those concerning her mother and the bothersome ghosts that came banging around the school infirmary at night.
“Them again!” Eva is said to have exclaimed as she straightened the room back up each time.
One day, the adult Livesey was getting a ride to the train station with her mother’s friend, Roger, who told her about the day he visited Eva’s office and saw a woman in a dark raincoat quickly leave. When he asked Eva who the stranger was and why she left in haste, Eva laughed and showed him that the door the visitor had used was screwed shut.
A light bulb flashed in Livesey’s mind. Her story ideas could have specifics about how poltergeists move around our world. Livesey got on the train that day, jotted down this very title, and began a draft of the book and the long process of research.
In the novel, Eva McEwan is a motherless child who lives in Troon, Scotland, at a boys’ boarding school with her father, David, a teacher, and her Aunt Lily who cares for her. Eva’s mother, Barbara, had died immediately after giving birth to her when a formation of six magpies was observed out the window, indicating a death would take place.
When Eva is 6 years old, two ephemeral beings, an older woman and a freckled girl with braids, appear to her. The much-loved but lonely little girl likes to think of them as her “companions” who come in and out of her life. As a young woman, Eva becomes a nurse serving in the war effort and then makes the safe choice of a husband who becomes a teacher in a boys’ school.
I found that knowing the story behind the book is an enrichment; we understand that the novel is one writer’s attempt to explore the world of a mother who was taken from her so early and to feel closer to her. Yet Livesey’s story is filled with moments of tenderness and love that all readers can relate to.