Swimming Home/Deborah Levy: Reflections

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

I consider it a triumph every time I snare a sensational book and actually read it.

So consider me triumphed again—discovering Swimming Home by Deborah Levy in Philadelphia's Thirtieth Street Station bookstore (a tiny clutch of a space that has yet to fail my good-book greed) and reading it on the way to Penn and back, then in a fold of early morning hours.

This is the kind of book my friend Karen Rile will be able to explain to me, in full, when she reads it (she has ordered herself a copy). This is the kind of book I love—dangerously intelligent, smashed and dared, big themes on a small stage, more revealed by the brave elisions and planted repetitions, the near repetitions, than most authors can disclose declaratively. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker last year, but that's not why I bought it. I bought it because I stood in that bookstore at just past six in the morning, flipped through, and found lines like this:
Every moment with her was a kind of emergency, her words always too direct, too raw, too truthful.
She was not ready to go home and start imitating someone she used to be.
Her long thighs were joined to the jutting hinges of her hips like the legs of the dolls she used to bend and twist as a child.
The story is strange and seductive, its images bright.  There's the desire to read fast, to know how it all ends (for won't it end calamitously?), but you know you have to read it slow; you know you'll miss everything if you don't. It concerns two vacationing couples, an old villa in Nice, and a young woman named Kitty Finch, a naked anorectic with green painted fingernails and a hunch about nature who is desperate to have Joe, the philandering poet half of one of the couples, read a poem she wrote just for him. There is also a girl named Nina in the mix—Joe's daughter—who is trying (as the reader is trying) to make sense of the rich senselessness.

There is a mediation on the idea of et cetera. Et cetera!

All right. I'm done. Buy it. 


Sarah Laurence said...

I think I read a review of this book in the NYT but wasn't sure it was for me. After reading your review with those stunning excerpts, it's going on my to read list. I shall look for it at our independent bookstore in town.

I just reviewed 2 books that I think you'd love: The Snow Child (literary/historical fiction) and Out of Nowhere (literary YA). One is somewhat magical and lyrical but true to life in frontier Alaska and the other is gritty realism about Somali immigrants and prejudice.

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