Tight, textured, irresistible
Deborah Levy, 53, had gone under the reader’s radar for a while. Her last novel, Billy and Girl, was published in 1999. And then, she zoomed out of as if nowhere to be shortlisted last year for the Man Booker Prize for her new, very short novel, Swimming Home. I’d been meaning to read it for months now, and I bought, as an e-book (because I was between books and wanted to start it right away) late one night last week. I had finished it by the following evening. It kept me up at night on the eve of a busy day in the office, but was it worth it!
There is something about the short novel that particularly agrees with me. Forty to fifty thousand words, elliptical, allusive, precise, teasing out but not always offering all resolutions. Swimming Home is all this, and more. Some time ago, Ian McEwan wrote about this form being the most “perfect form of prose fiction”. Read what he had to say here.
Levy’s novel starts in a villa in the mountains above Nice in France, where two English families have turned up for a holiday. From the swimming pool of the villa emerges a naked woman, a young self-styled, anorexic botanist, who takes over the families’ holiday in all sorts of unexpected ways.
Multi-layered, taut and moving, lyrical and disquieting in turns, Swimming Home manages in its 150 pages more than many novels do at thrice that length. If you aren’t going to read it, you are denying yourself.
And here, if you are keen, is a perceptive essay on Levy’s new book of stories, Black Vodka, and a jog through her previous work.