Wednesday, September 12, 2012

book review: Swimming Home by Deborah Levy

The backstory: Swimming Home is on the 2012 Booker Prize shortlist.

The basics: This novella explores the life of Kitty, a beautiful, deeply troubled young botanist with a passion for poetry. Set in a summer cottage on the French Riviera in July 1994, Kitty enchants Joe, a famous poet, who is vacationing with his wife, teenage daughter, and a couple of friends.

My thoughts: From the first line of this novel, "When Kitty Finch took her hand off the steering wheel and told him she loved him, he no loner knew if she was threatening him or having a conversation," I was enchanted by both Levy's prose and these haunted, curious characters. Levy's crisp, precise prose paints vivid pictures of both the characters and setting. This novella is slight only in pages, but it packs an incredible literary and emotional punch.

This novella was a page turner. Levy wowed me with the tightness and beauty of her prose in every single sentence. Rarely do I want to re-read a novel, but the combination of language and story in this novel is a rare delicacy.

The verdict: There's a startling intimacy to this novel and its characters. As a reader, I was unsettled as a voyeur witnessing the tragedies unfold in the lives of these tender, haunted characters, but I also loved every word, punctuation mark and sentence. Levy has written a masterpiece, and it's utterly deserving of this year's Booker Prize.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 157 pages
Publication date: October 11, 2011
Source: interlibrary loan

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Swimming Home from the Book Depository or Amazon (no Kindle version.)

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14 comments:

  1. I love that you love every punctuation mark in it! I haven't been closely following the Booker this year (having gotten caught up in other reading lists) but will keep an eye out for this one.

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    1. It is so incredibly brilliant. My Booker reading has been hit or miss thus far, but Swimming Home reminds me why I try to read them all. I likely never would have discovered this author's novel on a small, new, independent press without it. I'm now eager to read her earlier works--another author for the REW list!

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  2. This sounds absolutely amazing! Surprisingly, there isn't a copy in our entire library system.

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    1. JoAnn--I had to get it through interlibrary loan, but it's worth purchasing a copy (it's in paperback.) It's one I'll actually re-read and marvel at for years to come.

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  3. My, this does sound like a lyrical and intense book, and from the section you quoted, it seems like the author has a great grasp of wordplay and scene setting. I am going to have to read this one at some point. Excellent review today!

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    1. I am so enamored with this book, Zibilee. I just got one of her earlier novels from the library and am already looking forward to it!

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  4. I am always interested when you give you title a 5 star rating. I'll admit I didn't know about this prior to seeing you update on Goodreads. I've been telling myself to try and read more titles on lists like the Man Booker. While I generally don't get through them, it's worth trying and failing, rather than not at all.
    Glad to see you enjoyed this. I'll admit it sounds a bit depressing, but some of my most favorite stories are. The cover art's even amazing.

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    1. This one would be good to start with in terms of Booker because it's so short. I often find the long ones more daunting, but I love beautifully written short novels.

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  5. Oooh, five out of five -- and that first line is divine. I want -- WANT -- this one.

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  6. There's just something about novellas. It's so much easier to have perfect prose when the author isn't worried about spreading the story too thin. And I feel like good novellas manage to make characters more believable in fewer pages than the most bloated of epic novels. My point is, this sounds perfectly lovely and I want to read it.

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    1. Biblibio, I agree. I adore novellas and short novels. The writing can almost always carry the entire piece then. I hope you make time for Swimming Home.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!