Book Review: Swimming Home by Deborah Levy


This is a great book for the weekend and not just because its brevity makes it easily readable in a weekend. It may be brief in length but it is any thing but brief in impact and content.

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy is another book I bought as a result of attending a literary event earlier in the year.  It is one that had been on my radar for a while and hearing Deborah Levy speak was the prompt to read it.

Kitty Finch or Kitty Ket as she is affectionately known by one of the other characters in the novel arrives unexpectedly and nakedly in the swimming pool of a villa in the south of France.  The villa is already inhabited by two middle class English couples.  Isabel, the hard hitting overseas correspondent and her erudite poet husband with their 14 year old daughter Nina, are on holiday with the gun brandishing Mitchell and his tolerant wife Lorna.  There are already strains in the various relationships and the arrival of Kitty Finch only enhances these.

This a tense novel. The instability of Kitty coupled with the fraught relationships around her makes for an edgy read.  The steamy, stifling heat of Southern France rises from the pages and contributes to this edginess.

The murky swimming pool could be seen as a symbol  of the murkiness of the characters.  Much of what is going on in some of the central relationships such as Isabel and Joe remains hidden beneath a cloudy surface.  The theme of mental illness, and the effect different aspects of that can have on relationships is explored carefully.  Each character has a clearly defined role in the plot even the lesser ones and despite the jarring nature of some of the personalities I felt that they were treated kindly by the author. I love the way Deborah Levy writes.  Her words and sentences are economical but beautifully phrased.

“Her hands swooped over the steering wheel like the seagulls they had counted from their room in the Hotel Negresco two hours ago”

“In the silver light of the late afternoon it was snowing seagulls on every roof top in Nice””He said the jam changed the weather inside him, but she didn’t know what the weather was in the first place” is such a tender way to describe depression.

“in their white uniforms they looked like snowdrops on the mown green lawns of the hospital” is Kitty’s description of the nurses in the psychiatric hospital where she had been a patient.

There is so much in this novel that despite finishing it a couple of days ago I keep dipping back into it, and feel sure this is a book that will stay with me long after its found a place on my book shelf.


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