Swimming Home by Deborah Levy

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Swimming Home by Deborah Levy

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: It looks like a slight book - almost a novella - but it punches way about its weight. Highly recommended
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: September 2011
Publisher: And Other Stories
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1908276025

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Joe, a poet and Isabel, his war-correspondent wife and their teenage daughter Nina rent a luxurious villa in the South of France and invite their friends Laura and Mitchell to join them. On their first day there Nina finds what appears to be a naked body floating in the swimming pool, but it's Kitty Finch. She pleads a mix-up over booking dates and when told that all the local hotels are fully booked for some days Isabel offers her the use of the spare bedroom at the villa. There's no obvious reason for why she does this, but what does become clear is that Kitty suffers from depression - and she's stopped taking her medication.

It's a short book - some 176 pages in my proof copy. You could be forgiven for thinking that it would turn out to be a quick read about some mismatched people holidaying together - but you're only a page or two in before you start to wonder. The writing is very good. You get the feeling that words have cost money and not only has not one has been wasted, they're all used to maximum effect. When you begin reading you're pulled in and it's very difficult to put the book down.

Then there's the characters. It's a relatively small cast - little more than the six occupants of the villa, a neighbour and a couple of locals, but they all play their part and most come off the page fully clothed. Well, apart from Kitty that is - and she has a habit of appearing completely naked. She's the pivotal point of the story; flaky and manipulative, needy and very dangerous. It's obvious that she has her own agenda but what that is only becomes clear in the final pages.

The plot is tight. The blurb speaks of the insidious effects of depression but this is handled very nimbly. Kitty's state of mind is almost background noise, something which you come to accept as being part of her. What only gradually becomes evident is the effect of her depression on other people - and even the extent to which they are fellow sufferers. The story moves through a week at the villa with barely a hint of what is to come, with only Nina sensing a danger, but the conclusion is inevitable.

It's Levy's imagination and skill which stuns me. The common theme between most of the main characters is confusion, about what they want from life, what they can scrape from the ruins, or what it means to become an adult but she can pull all this in to clear and compelling prose. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For a story with a similar theme you might enjoy The Red House by Mark Haddon.

Buy Swimming Home by Deborah Levy at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Swimming Home by Deborah Levy at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Swimming Home by Deborah Levy at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Swimming Home by Deborah Levy at Amazon.com.


Booklists.jpg Swimming Home by Deborah Levy is in the Man Booker Prize 2012.

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