Sun, Suffering and Savagery
- BuySwimming Home by Deborah Levy
Faber/And Other Stories, second edition, 160 pp, £7.99, September 2012, ISBN 978 0 571 29960 7
The swimming pool we all know, blue and rectangular. And the body, ‘floating near the deep end, where a line of pine trees kept the water cool in their shade’. The family around it, Joe Jacobs the father, Isabel the mother and Nina the teenage daughter; Mitchell and Laura, the family friends invited on holiday with them. ‘Is it a bear?’ Joe asks, half-jokingly; the party has been discussing a news story about a bear that walked down from the hills one day to take a dip in a Hollywood actor’s pool. But Nina can see that it’s ‘a woman swimming naked … on her stomach, both arms stretched out like a starfish, her long hair floating like seaweed at the sides of her body’. So far, so calm and regular. And yet, I can already feel panic rising in me. Always, already and for ever, events have slipped completely out of control.
Vol. 34 No. 19 · 11 October 2012
From Kirsty Gunn
To read Deborah Levy’s Booker-shortlisted Swimming Home as though it were a version of ‘a holiday poolside tragedy’, as Jenny Turner does, is to miss the point of a stunningly original writer’s literary project (LRB, 27 September). Since Beautiful Mutants (1989), her first work of fiction, Levy has created stories that are not concerned with the mimetic and summative. The traditional novel, that fictional set-up rigid with narratological priorities, has never been Levy’s thing. Instead, go back to all those items in Swimming Home that Turner lists for us, the sugar mice and cherry print bikini – those words. That is where the action of this book is, the author creating stuff on the page for readers to bump up against and try and figure out. On the page is where Levy’s stories and characters happen: in words, not in the spooling out of plot and character development, representations of scenarios that may or may not be familiar, may or may not be sparked by some drug or other that may or may not have been prescribed in the period in which the novel is set. The only time that’s real is the time of our reading and what we make of our response to all these curious nouns and verbs and adjectives that are happening in the sentences. ‘I have that continuous uncomfortable feeling of “things” in the head, like icebergs or rocks or awkwardly shaped pieces of furniture,’ Elizabeth Bishop wrote. That’s how to approach the remarkable piece of high modernism that is Swimming Home. We were never supposed to just sit there. Take a breath. Go under.