I’ve decided to attempt reading all of the Man Booker Prize longlist nominees. Last year, I was quite embarrassed when the winner was announced, and it was a book I had yet to read. I went back and looked at the longlist for 2011. I recognized a couple of the titles as books that online friends raved about, and I hadn’t read a one of them. So this year I’m attempting to read the entire Man Booker Prize longlist (give or take a couple of titles I can’t get my hands on at the moment). Maybe this project will help me earn back some of my well-read street cred. Also, I hope to enjoy some quality fiction while I’m at it.
This after noon I finished reading the Man Booker Prize longlist nominee Swimming Home (Published by And Other Stories, 157 pages)by Deborah Levy. I started reading it the night before and had trouble falling asleep because I had to know what was going to happen next. So this afternoon I finished reading Levy’s words with tears in my eyes. Beware: This one may make you cry.
Swimming Home is about what happens when you allow a stranger in to unravel the seams of an already deteriorating family structure. At the beginning of the novel Levy introduces two families: Joe, a celebrated poet and Isabel, a war correspondent and their fourteen- year-old daughter Nina in addition to Mitchell and Laura who own a store selling antiquities together. The two families are sharing a villa together for the summer in Nice, France. The year is 1994. Upon arrival at the villa, they notice something floating in the pool. After much consulting back and forth they realize the “something in the pool” is actually a girl. Isabel jumps in and pulls her to safety. The girl is completely nude. She has long, auburn hair and speaks with a halting stutter. They learn her name is Kitty Finch and she says that she had reserved the same villa they are supposed to be staying in for the summer. Kitty is distressed because she has been told by the caretaker she is going to lose her deposit, Isabel offers Kitty the spare room. From here the story takes off.
From the beginning three things are clear:
- Kitty Finch is mentally off.
- Kitty Finch is an obsessed fan of Joe’s poetry.
- This will not end well.
Levy’s writing style is beautiful, poetic, and surreal. She’s created an environment where centipedes may haunt a man’s dreams and later on the same man may have a friend come home with a fishing bucket containing the very thing of his dreams. I love the point of view (POV) shifts in Levy’s writing. On one page Levy can effortlessly slide in and out of two or three different POVs. Levy shifts POV as easily as an accomplished classical pianist changes cords.
Swimming Home has an ethereal feel to it as though the characters have wondered into a situation they can neither comprehend nor escape. When an elderly neighbor talks to Isabel about Kitty’s mental health, it is as though Isabel simply cannot hear what Madeleine has to say about her disturbing history with the girl.Kitty has sprinkled her fairy dust on Isabel and Joe, and they can’t seem to shake it off.
The novel is short. It is only 157 pages long, but it is packed with precise phrasing, beautiful imagery, colorful minor characters, and sparkle and shine amongst the sadness that permeates the novel from the beginning. It is a story about depression, mental illness, and the wreckage it leaves behind in its wake. The end of the novel stunned me. I was left crying. Desperately wishing I had another book by Deborah Levy in my hand so I could begin again.