Monday, 19 November 2012

swimming home [deborah levy]

There's a corner of a foreign field that will be forever England. According to Levy, this corner is constructed out of petty deceit, matrimonial disquiet and suicidal urges. Whilst there are echoes of McEwan's Atonement in the conceit, the work of art this most resembles is Joanna Hogg's Unrelated. The British idyll abroad upset by the appearance of a rogue element, in this case the unpredictable and clearly unhinged Kitty Finch, who is swimming in the pool of the French holiday villa hired by two bourgeois London families. Kitty Finch spells trouble and sure enough she brings it to the party, unhinging one and all.

Whilst this is a potent cocktail of a premise, the truth is that the book skates over the dramatic depths. Like an iced-over pool, we gain glimpses of things the novel might have explored but chose not to. Instead the writer favours a poeticised imagistic approach, full of metaphor and simile, one which lathers the cold, cruel eye of the poet over the novel's crust. If you get my drift. Cruel, the book certainly is: with the exception of a 14 year old girl, Nina (more shades of Atonement) all the various characters are people you'd rather not hang out with. It does feel slightly pretensious of the author to give them such portentous jobs, (a holocaust-escapee poet; a TV war correspondent; etc), the significance of which are never really investigated. Instead the book hinges on Kitty, the bastard daughter of Fitzgerald's Nicole, waiting for the nuthouse to claim her.

The book has been a success and has earned an introduction from Tom McCarthy, no small praise. In some ways it also reminiscent of Lerner's Atocha Station, but it lacks the humour of Lerner's anti-heroic text, forever taking itself as seriously as it possibly can, overloading its 150 pages with an implication of a depth it never gets round to revealing.

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