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'Swimming Home' is a subversive page turner a merciless gaze at the insidiuos harm that depression can have on apparently stable well turned out people Set in a summer villa the story is tautly structured taking place over a week in which a group of beautiful flawed tourists in the French Riviera come loose at the seamsShortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize


10 thoughts on “Swimming Home

  1. says:

    I’m really at a loss to understand why this novella shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2012 did not win it This is a perfect book The prose is magnificent and a tour de force by an author with an exuisite handling particularly of the mental state in human beingsThe setting is July 1994 in a villa up in the hills from Nice in the Alpes Maritime one of my favourite places in southern France A famous poet Jozef Jacobs known as Joe and his wife Isabel a former war correspondent are on holiday with their teenage daughter Nina Other household guests are Laura and Mitchell who own a shop in Euston London Isabel has known Laura for many years but they are certainly not close friends if anything they are used to one another and are comfortable together A mix up in the letting of the villa sees the arrival of Kitty Finch who is friendly with the Austrian caretaker Jurgen He was rather taken with Kitty and called her Kitty Ket whilst thinking of any conceivable manoeuvre to get closer to her in ways than one Isabel decides that the villa is than large enough for them and Kitty is invited to stay by her The reason for this is apparent later on Pubescent Nina has become interested in Claude a friend of Jurgen who owns the only café in the village and looks like Mick JaggerNot a very exciting story you may think but think again Slowly the problems in Joe’s and Isabel’s marriage and its fragility become apparent the worries that Nina has the eighty year old retired Doctor Madeleine Sheridan who views from the balcony next door the development of the family’s encounter with Kitty and who knows the latter’s extraordinary background and Mitchell and LauraTalk about bated breath with every single page I read this book sizzled with secrets sensuality depression depravity deception fear insecurity and I cannot list all the other factors that came into the euation Every single comment be it regarding an insect or whatever is enhanced The descriptions are vivid What to any individual would appear as trivia become of vital importance Every utterance is an impact on lifeThe theme centres around water and especially the swimming pool and the fact that Kitty had written a poem that she wished Joe to read Kitty is a botanist and she is following a specific agenda in life It was rather disturbing to find out what it wasThe poem of Sir Walter Scott springs to mind“Oh What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceiveThe intensity of the writing and the attention to detail never mind the style are absolutely breathtakingThe novella surges relentlessly towards its rather unexpected conclusion The ending was not at all what I had envisagedSpectacular – that’s the only word I can possibly use


  2. says:

    This book is rather wonderful cryptic elusive allusive and dreamlike and very difficult to encapsulate or describe in a meaningful review My only previous exposure to Levy was reading her most recent book Hot Milk and this book occupies similar territory at least superficially Both are full of symbolism and striking imagery and share similar southern European settings but ultimately depend on what is not said than what is Levy toys with her characters and appears to understand them better than they do themselves I won't even attempt to describe the plot which seems almost irrelevant


  3. says:

    I really wanted to love this book and I did love Levy's writing her prose is masterful conveying character setting and insight in small spare beautifully crafted paragraphs The entire book is uite lean a week of time briefly surgically told and yet there are 9 distinct well drawn characters each with backstory plot and motivation Levy's craftsmanship is richThe problem is that the book is cold at the core The oddly comforting epilogue rings false in a book that so limpidly depicts layer upon layer of rejection failure to connect and selfishness The overwhelming urge that you have as a reader is to slap everyone concerned as they solipsistically labor at their own undoing Also and importantly a little too writerly in the end Much ado about a scribbled self important poem as clue as suicide note as purloined letter; a father's pen penis that only a daughter can find until his lover seizes it and tattoos him the Holocaust survivor; a cloudy amniotic swimming pool that gives birth to the plot All a little too much the paint by numbers book I might have written if I were as gifted as Levy in the depths of my lit crit undergrad days The introduction notes glowingly that Levy has read her Deleuze and Lacan and I'd hazard a guess that all that weighs a little heavy on her for plain old fashioned good novel writingSo not my choice for the Booker although I have an itchy feeling that it will win


  4. says:

    Move over Truman Capote Holly Go Lightly has met her match and then some in Kitty Finch the strange young botanist who insinuates herself into the vacation home rented by a renowned poet and his little family Her allure tattoos itself into the thin skin of the poet's marriage and we root for him as he works to resist her copper coils and long limbs She insists that they share the same mindset and perhaps if not thoughts then emotions They are 'in nerve contact' she insists In one of Levy's odd little metaphors Kitty and Joe are like the boy Elliott and his Extra Terrestrial This seems absolutely crazy and yet the reader cannot look away for fear that this mad and milky stalk of a young woman may be correct In an entrancing story line soft white feathers plucked from a swan and made into a little cape are the counterbalance to a rouge red shawl around the shoulders of an elderly woman Kitty's nemesis Instead of feathers it sports puffy red pompoms at its edges making the elder Madeleine matador to the wild thing that is KittyAs the song Eleanor Rigby is played by lobby musicians we aren't given the lyrics but surely we all know them Ah look at all the lonely people In a book loaded with symbolism and beautiful uirk it is the perfect lead up to her Man Booker nominee Hot Milk this one was nominated too While this is not going to be popular with the commercial fiction reading crowd my God what a writer this Levy is Pay attention to dreams and when you're finished with the book look up the The Swimmer by John Cheever and the poem It's Raining by Guillaume Apollinaire this


  5. says:

    Deborah Levy is an interesting writer There is a visual uality to her work that makes the reader blink Is this a novel or is it a film we ask ourselves? Are we reading or watching? We become immobile in front of the screen of her set pieces watching passively as the events happen before our eyes as if in a documentary or a piece of reality TV But there is no voice over hardly any backstory and no linking of scenes What we see is all there is so we have to make of it what we canThere is also a baldness to the language which serves to shake us out of our passivity from time to time The truth was her husband had the final word because he wrote words and then he put full stops at the end of themI thought the bluntness of the language matched well with the theme which predominated for me the workings of fractured minds There’s an absence of pronouns like ‘whom’ and ‘which’ and ‘that’ which make some of the sentences read as if there were an invisible twist in the middle but when you go back and reread them you can’t find where the disjunction lies It is as if although it is a third person narrative the writing itself is the product of a splintered mindLevy likes symbols The swimming pool is very present and we are reminded of its shape and other ualities freuently This works well but some other symbolic references are perhaps unnecessary a character’s green nails are underlined too often We didn’t need to know she wore green nail varnish to understand her connection to the earth and her love of botany There were also too many hints dropped in relation to the outcome so that when it came it was almost without a surprise element but not uite


  6. says:

    There’s just such an entrancing uality to Deborah Levy’s writing I was immediately captured by the opening chapter and knew this was going to be my kind of read Much like her other novel Hot Milk this book is brief but brimming with cryptic messages where dreams and reality mix to add to its dreamlike uality you visually “feel” this book Most of all I was sucked in and fell under its magical little spell


  7. says:

    Swimming Home is a steal with just 157 pages this little book packs an incredible punch The pervading scent of menace in this novel is overpowering and disuieting Precise concise decisive sentences trap the reader Nice France is overhung with a grey cloud of emotive intrigue Only the child seems to see the pervading danger imminent in the holiday The disintegration of relationships is everywhere; marriages friendships businesses Back dropped by the scenic atmosphere of Nice the family's holiday gathering stealthily turning dangerous is almost perverse This novel is deliciously threatening and adeptly written I seriously enjoyed this offering by Deborah Levy and will definitely pursue of her talented craftsmanship


  8. says:

    Over the past few years I’ve found the Man Booker shortlist to be a pretty reliable source of new interesting books I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise like 2011’s excellent Pigeon English and The Sisters Brothers or from 2010 Room Andrea Levy’s amazing The Long Song and Tom McCarthy’s weird but interesting C This year however while Bring Up the Bodies was absolutely brills the two shortlisted works I’ve read this book and The Garden of Evening Mists have been absolute Crap City I know it’s only March but this will almost definitely be the worst thing I read this year even if I end up reading something like a Family Circus Compendium of Only Those Strips Where Jeffy Runs Around in a Circuitous Route as Opposed to a Much More Sensible Straight LineFrom the outset Swimming Home is notably awkward and unbuyable full of stilted dialogue and awkward phrasing that makes it read like a poorly translated Chekov play For example in the opening scene where the five vacationers Isabel Jacobs famed war correspondent; Jozef “Joe” Jacobs famed poet; their 14 year old daughter Nina; their friends Laura and Mitchell discover something in their pool Isabel says something “in her detached war correspondent voice” not because she’s using a particular tone of voice but because she’s a war correspondent and the author couldn’t think of a better way to introduce this fact For some reason although the thing in the pool is actually a naked young woman Kitty a young woman with mental problems and an aversion to clothes trying to play the part of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl they think it might be a bear because just the day before they discussed an article where a bear swam in a Hollywood actor’s pool and was shot with a tranuilizer gun leading the famous renowned poet Jozef to go off on the following sub Bania from Seinfeld “riff” “Did the bear ever get home? Perhaps the barbiturate inserted inside the dart also known as ‘chemical capture’ had made the bear’s legs shake and jerk? Had the tranuilliser helped the bear cope with life’s stressful events calming its agitated mind so that it now pleaded with authorities to throw it small prey injected with barbiturate syrups?” And there you have it a ridiculous “is it a small petite woman whose craziness and sensuality will further strain the Jacobs’ marriage or a huge hulking bear that has never been seen in the French Riviera” mixup a poet who apparently writes for Jay Leno and the awkward writing the forced “chemical capture” fact is so unnecessaryIt only gets worse from there Joe uickly realizes that Kitty’s yet another one of his fawning young female fans who track him down and beg him to read one of the poems his greatness has inspired which makes perfect sense because everyone everywhere simply cannot get enough poetry I had to uit my job because I am always so busy buying books of poetry and storing all my tons of similar books of poetry in my Oakland sized warehouses devoted exclusively to all the books of poetry I own and then there are all the poetry TV shows I watch the lengthy Us and Ok and InStyle features I read about poets and what they’re wearing and all the poets I stalk So a plot centered around young girls loving poetry and being totally enthralled by a guy whose “most famous poem” suggests that “a bad fairy made a deal with me ‘give me your history and I will give you something to take it away’ ” makes perfect sense to me because that is some great ass poetry and everyone loves poetryThe only upside to this book is that it’s under 160 pages and thus is over relatively uickly and there are a lot of poorly written lines to laugh at along the way Like when that artsy poet totally sticks it to Mitchell by saying “It’s rude to be so normal Mitchell Even you must have been a child once Even you might have thought that there were monsters lurking under your bed Now that you are such an impeccably normal adult you probably take a discreet look under the bed and tell yourself well maybe the monster is invisible” OH SNAP It’s great that someone whose whole conceit is that he’s great with words is so good with witty ripostes right? Tersely worded bon mots that don’t at all sound like a German exchange student putting on the worst one act black box play you could ever see about his depression and how his parents just don’t “get him” with their nine to five reality mentalities man? Simply awful


  9. says:

    This ueer disuieting novel blends a dark surreal Topor topos with a Hollywood noir of forties vintage Taking place in 1994 over a week in a French holiday resort the novel centres around stuttering botanist and exhibitionist depressive Kitty Finch and her interaction with a ragbag of unlikeable snobs poets and snotty brats Like her 1995 book The Unloved Levy creates an unpleasant world with little empathy where language is the only refuge where the icy shimmer of the exacting prose keeps the reader entranced The novel brought to mind This Mortal Coil’s Blood For each moment of beautiful clarity such as ‘Mr Somewhere’ or ‘With Tomorrow’ there are oppressive opaue instrumentals like ‘Andialu’ or ‘Loose Joints’ that create a stifling atmosphere that strain to add layers of darkness to the already dreamlike beauty of the vocal led songs ‘You and Your Sister’ or ‘Til I Gain Control Again’ I made my own version of Blood a few years ago cutting out the floatier drearier instrumentals to create a ‘perfect’ LP Anyway a worthwhile investment and pleased to see this on the Booker longlist


  10. says:

    The characters were flat undifferentiated They were faceless to me doing nothing being nothing but somehow permeating the book with their unspoken whining Intensely irritating They all melted together as an amorphous mass of indecipherablenothingness I am so done with this book