Discovering Deborah Levy

Deborah LevyHave you ever found an author that you just want to recommend to everyone you meet? The type of author that you just want to read over and over again. I found this author in 2012 and I am slowly working through her backlist. The first book I read of hers I loved so much that as soon as I finished it, I turned back to page one and read it again. It is a little sad that she doesn’t get the recognition she deserves. No doubt, you have read the title of this post and skimmed the pictures, so you know I am talking about Deborah Levy.

Her book Swimming Home was shortlisted for the Man Booker in 2012 and in my opinion was more deserving than Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (I know I am bitter).  Levy has this unique style that I cannot really explain; it is razor sharp, witty, wry and intelligent, but it also has a dark-side. If this isn’t enough, her proses are just stunning, lyrical, poetic and bold. That is enough of playing the adjective game; I can’t give you all a copy of one of Deborah Levy’s books but maybe I can convince you to try one of the following.

swimming homeI recommend everyone start with Swimming Home, not just because it is where I started or because of the Man Booker shortlisting but because it is a pretty safe starting point. Set in a summer villa on the French Riviera, a group of tourists arrive to find a body in the swimming pool. At first they thought she was dead but she is very much alive. This self-proclaimed botanist, Kitty Finch walks out of the pool and injects herself into their holiday. A psychological story of love, this contemporary novel is drenched in Freudian ideas of both desire and dread.

black vodkaIf short stories are more your style, I recommend Black Vodka, a collection of ten stories about relationships, sadness, love, being alone and bitterness. This collection really brings out Levy’s views on philosophical ideas, especially when it comes to existentialism. While she was born in South Africa and now resides in England; the stories in Black Vodka, like most of her books, have a very strong European feel to them.

The UnlovedThanks to the gaining momentum for the Man Booker nomination, a lot of Deborah Levy’s books are being republished. Her 1995 novel The Unloved was edited and republished earlier this year. A group of self-indulgent European tourists decide to celebrate Christmas in a remote French chateau. However during their stay one of them is brutally murdered and the unloved child Tatiana knows who did it. The subsequent investigation into this death turns more into an examination of love, desire and rage. This is a shocking and exciting novel, full of characters you can’t help but suspect of murder.

If that isn’t enough to get you started she also has a collection of essays on the writing life called Things I Don’t Want to Know. Also the beautiful new hardcover edition of her poetry called An Amorous Discourse in the Suburbs of Hell was released this month. I am so glad she has more books for me to discover and enjoy and I hope she has many more in the future. Deborah Levy is such an underrated author in my opinion but I hope many people out there are willing to give her a go.

Review: Swimming Home by Deborah Levy

swimming-homeA body in the swimming pool is always a good start. But this is no ordinary mystery story. And Kitty Finch is no ordinary body.

Her appearance at the tourist villa which the Jacobs have rented disturbs everyone – Joe, Isabel and their fourteen-year-old daughter, Nina, and their friends Mitchell and Laura. Jurgen, the German hippy caretaker, and their neighbour, Madeleine Sheridan, also feel the impact of her presence.

Kitty herself is an enigma. She is a copper-haired botanist with green fingernails; a poet; an attractive young woman who favours walking around naked; and a disturbed and disturbing presence.

Deborah Levy’s book is strange and unusual in its structure and its style. Her chapters are short, and their titles enigmatic: ‘Walls that open and close’, ‘Body Electric’, ‘Money is Hard’. We follow the events of each day of one week after the appearance of Kitty,  and Levy conveys the moods and thoughts of her characters through seemingly random remarks and actions. Each has their own problems and secrets, their own view of the world, and their own fears, desires and confusions. Each has their own particular response to Kitty. But nothing is spelled out and the tension mounts. The week begins and ends with a body in the swimming pool but the final chapter of the book is given to Nina – her memories and her dreaming conversations with her father.

This is a curious novel, full of psychological insight, but Tom MacCarthy’s ‘Afterword’, with its mention of Deborah Levy’s reading in Lacan, Deleuze, Barthes, Duras, Stein and Ballard risks making it seem like a dry academic exercise. His assessment of what he calls the “kaleidoscopic narrative” in this book adds more name-dropping confusion and is superfluous unless its readers are bent on deconstructing the text rather than enjoying a stimulating and interesting book.

Copyright © Ann Skea 2012
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