Saturday, 2 March 2013

SWIMMING HOME by Deborah Levy


According to reviews, this novel bridges the gap between poetry and narrative. Clearly, I thought I was going to hate it. The introduction did not help; speaking of Levy, the writer says:
". . she was a writer as much at home within the fields of visual and conceptual art, philosophy and performance as within that of the printed word. She'd read her Lacan and Deleuze, her Bartes . . Like the emotional and cerebral choreographies of Pina Bausch, her fiction seemed less concerned about the stories it narrated than the interzone (to borrow Burrough's term) . . . "

Oh god! "Less concerned about stories," as if that makes you a better writer! GOD. i am glad I did not give up however, because SWIMMING HOME turns out to be rather a lovely novel.

It tells the story of a family who arrive for their vacation in a rented house in France to find another lady there, who says she has confused her dates, and thought she had the house rented. They invite her to stay, and it slowly becomes clear that the lady is in fact there because the father in the family is a famous poet, with whom she is in love. The lady and the poet have a sort of melancholy half-baked affair, and the story ends rather sadly. It's an interesting plot, with really gorgeous writing. Here is the lady and poet on the way to a hotel:
As they strolled down the Promenade des Anglais in the silver light of the late afternoon, it was snowing seagulls on every rooftop in Nice. She had casually slung the short white feathered cape across her shoulders, its satin ribbons tied in a loose knot around her neck.
And here they are in the elevator up to their hotel room:
She stared at the multiple reflections of Joe's sweating arm around her waist, the green silk of her dress trembling as they saild silently in the lift that smelt of leather to the third floor.
The book has some light hearted moments, also, as when the poet becomes annoyed with a friend who is acting horrified about someone else's behaviour. The poet says: "It's rude to be so normal, Mitchell," which I found strangely hilarious.

What most impressed me was the author's ability to weave the various poetic elements in and out of the story, with multiple complex repetitions, in a way that seemed entirely natural and in service to the plot. Really remarkable writing.

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