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Swallowing Geography is a stunning early novel by the Man Booker shortlisted Deborah Levy Embedded in this beautifully written novel is Deborah Levy's gift for blending fairytale with biting satire Through the voice of the irreverent and ironic narrator JK Swallowing Geography interrogates the yearning of discontented children imagined homes and strangers and histories at the turbulent close of the 20th century'A stunningly original writer' Kirsty Gunn'One of the few British writers comfortable on a world stage' New Statesman'Levy's strength is her originality of thought and expression' Jeanette WintersonDeborah Levy writes fiction plays and poetry Her work has been staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company and she is the author of highly praised books including The Unloved Things I Don't Want to Know Beautiful Mutants and Billy and Girl Her novel Swimming Home was shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize 2012 Specsavers National Book Awards UK Author of the Year and 2013 Jewish uarterly Wingate Prize while the title story of her most recent work of fiction Black Vodka was shortlisted for the 2012 BBC International Short Story Award


10 thoughts on “Swallowing Geography

  1. says:

    Deborah Levy’s second novella is a near perfect creation taking us into the nomadic realm of JK—a loveless and forlorn nation hopper who takes lovers and flees Elegant poetic prose sprightly playfulness and complex untangling of dark psyches Levy’s trademarks in evidence in this beautifully titled novella Recently republished


  2. says:

    As much as I have loved all of the others of Levy's books I've read this left me perplexed and rather disappointed Experimental to be sure and has sections that are as good as any of the rest of her work but there isn't a strong narrative thread or even thematic through line that I could decipher


  3. says:

    Is it possible that classic rules of forms and structure do not fit this experience of existing and not existing at the same timeSwallowing Geography was Deborah Levy's 2nd novella just 85 pages published in 1993 following her debut Beautiful Mutants my reviewWhereas her first novel took its inspiration from the materialism of 1980s Britain Swallowing Geography is set against a background of the first Gulf War and the reunification of Germany The theme of displacement and migration from the first novel comes through even stronger hereAnd the prose and imagery is even fragmentary This review from the Independent at the time ht to Neil's review expresses it wellSwallowing Geography is the sort of novel which doesn't behave like a novel the sort that can usually be put in its place by applying the label 'experimental' Less than 100 pages its matter is congealed into six dense disorienting chapters with vatic titles like 'Riding the Tiger' and 'Book of the Open Mouth' With no linear narrative to speak of it is less a stream of consciousness than a heap of broken images The novel is told from the perspective of JK she herself can't even remember what it stands for She is the wanderer bum emigre refugee deportee rambler strolling player Sometimes she would like to be a settler but curiosity grief and disaffection forbid itSometimes she is visible and sometimes she is invisible This is not because she is a ghost or a mystic but because some people want to see her and some people do notBoth intimate and alien she can touch the world with a phantom handshe is Europe's eerie child and she is part of the stormIn JK we also see glimpses of the sardonic characters in Levy's later novels such as Sophie from Hot Milk via JK's left field observations On the aeroplane over here the air hostess demonstrated various ways of surviving an aircrash She said we must blow on a whistle to attract attention to ourselves Don't you think that's a little narcissistic?The images in the novel over multiply at first leaving the reader disorientated At one point JK looks around her room; a little saucer full of yellow canary feathers pebbles postcards a bag full of coins an address book a white bowl on a stand a photograph of Gregory a cashew nut in its shell not unlike a foetus a poster of a man with a dragonfly taped to his forehead a green ribbon the letters XYZ scrawled on the back of an envelope in felt pen a picture of an orange hand with six fingers ALIEN written underneath it and a 1936 Smith Corona typewriter most of which feature somewhere in the 80 brief pages alongside a guest appearance from TrotskyBut Levy brings out the theme of the novel albeit not by pulling together all these threads clearly at the story ends The wanderer Y skinny dips in a river watched by her local lover X He the settler present visible and somewhere is reluctant to swim with the wanderer at a strange hour He has a home and has Z to return to He will return wet and Z will ask him why 'Don't swallow the water' he shoutsShe swallows and swallows the water And as she swallows she swallows the possibility she will always be alone Swallows the river that will flow into the sea that is made from other waters that have flowed from mountains and hills that will leak into oceans She swallows geography learns to swim in changing tides and temperatures learns to speak in many tongues She does this because she has no choice but to do so and she comes out of the river to find him there holding her earrings in his hand and he says 'But they don't fit Who are you?A less satisfying read than Beautiful Mutants but perhaps a powerful message and as with the earlier novel it is fascinating to see the emergence of the author Deborah Levy would become


  4. says:

    I read this on breaks in waiting rooms curled up in bed before sunrise None of the narrative made any sense and yet everything was interconnected Only one character had a name Gregory Because he had claimed his own geography Everyone else was a letter maybe two There was love the sea and a man’s head aflame If you’ve read her autobiography you can see snippets of Levy in this book A missing father oranges things coming out of the blue Where is the blue anyway?“ when people suddenly out of the blue changed their name I always think they’ve been visited by strange men in spaceships Out of the blue Where is the blue? The blue is somewhere Where are you?” 46


  5. says:

    uite a departure from 'Beautiful Mutants' but eually as sprawlingly spectacular and gifted reading this made me remember all the times i was a traveller and a foreigner and a tourist and a wanderer and a misfit and a vagabond full of so may phrases and thoughts and imagery painful to read at times achingly raw in others always stunning and fabulously written


  6. says:

    This is a very surreal book Levy throws away all the things that you might consider conventional in a novel plot characterisation coherence for examples and throws something at you that it is simply not possible to grasp mentally At least I couldn't But and I think this is maybe the point it is possible to respond emotionally to the deluge of images the seemingly disconnected fragments If there's a plot of any kind to be found it centres on JK and her wanderings around Europe and her dealings with various lovers Plus Trotsky and Lenin somehow contrive to make appearancesIt's very short just 72 pages I believe although the real page numbers on my Kindle went mad and started at page 107 of iv and counted from there and leaves you feeling rather disoriented at the end But along the way it asks uestions about identity coincidentally a similar theme to the last book I read The Echo Maker isn't it strange how randomly chosen books sometimes seem to group together? By messing around with everything that you might use to identify yourself name relationships home community for example it makes you stop and thinkPlus it is tremendous fun to read because no one else writes uite like LevyBy the way I can't claim credit for many of these ideas about this book I was floundering a bit until I read this review which helped enormously Independent Review


  7. says:

    would it be worth it to be dazzled wined dined and fucked silly if it was only for one night? your lover soon to take off in the jet never to be seen again?or play it safe never go near that person stay in town go shopping for the cats read about lovers on tumblr?levy's always pick the first one


  8. says:

    'we return to homelands and find they are a hallucination'


  9. says:

    The narrative was all over the place and for some reason I couldn't connect with the story nor the characters my least favourite work by Levy for sureCan be avoided


  10. says:

    Just beautiful I love the way Levy writes JK like Jack Kerouac travels around with her typewriter in this dreamlike fragmented story where each place she encounters is layered with the memories of other lives It is a story of displaced people and a longing for home interspersed with forgetting I’m sure there are many references that went over my head but even purely on a sentence level this is just stunning