Monday, October 8, 2012

{review} swimming home

Deborah Levy Swimming Home (2011)

 

Swimming Home belongs to one of my personal favourite literary 'genres': short books set in France. I have experienced many happy instances of this, both 'authentic' - Chéri {REVIEW}, Zazie in the Metro {REVIEW}, Bonjour Tristesse, Le Silence de la Mer - or Anglophone (e.g., Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes {REVIEW}).

Swimming Home is a disturbing little book - one knows that it will never end well, but precisely how badly will things go? While I was reading, I kept thinking how familiar it all sounded: dysfunctional family holiday, adulterous father, distant mother, daughter vs. menarche, Maenadish mentally troubled interloper, hot sun, dangerous roads, poetry and loss (artistic, financial and personal).

To assemble such an overtly significant set of quasi-archetypes does run the danger of reworking cliché or rewriting tragedy-with-a-capital-T. Interestingly, I read Bonjour Tristesse just after I finished Swimming Home, which probably enhanced my sense of how familiarity does not necessarily breed contempt in the hands of an exceptional writer.

The writing of Swimming Home - the language, the repetitions, the ambiguities, the characterisation - lift it beyond the slightness these hackneyed themes might suggest. I thought it a very successful attempt. Its little tragedies do linger on in the mind. 

And it was short. Did I mention that?! ;-) Will this be the year that a short book wins the Booker?

If you liked this... there's that little French book list above. I am thinking about Vercors (aka Jean Bruller), because Le Silence de la Mer was a set text in my French class at university, and was thus the first 'real' French novel(la) I ever read. He also wrote a 'fox into lady' response to David Garnett's wonderful Lady into Fox, called Sylva. Anyone read that? 

2 comments:

  1. I have read Sylva! I'm intending to re-read it this year, actually, whilst writing about Lady Into Fox. My memories of it are hazy, but I do recall enjoying it. I bought it because I loved LIF, and I thought another fox book would be fun, but I didn't realise until I started it that it was actually openly related to LIF.

    My cover isn't quite as extraordinary as that one, though!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Simon - I should have guessed you'd have read it, given the foxy link. I shall track it down - all my searches come back with "Did you mean Sylvia?", which is sort of funny (and sort of annoying).

      Delete

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