Posts tagged ‘The Man Booker Award’

That evasive thing in writing – “Swimming Home” by Deborah Levy

imageThere is something about this book that I can’t put my finger on.  It is really well written and, while the story seems familiar,  it is just so engaging.  And sometimes a book is just the right blend of story and meaning and writing. This is definitely that book (it was a finalist for the Man Booker Award for a reason).

Poet Joe Jacobs, his wife and his 12-year-old daughter, Nina, have rented a villa on the French Rivera.  The family and the couple vacationing with them come home to the villa one day to find a naked woman swimming in their pool.  And just that simply their lives change or they swiftly head down the course they were destined to meet anyway. It is hard to know.

The naked woman, Kitty, with her green painted nails and apparent hatred for clothes, has just been released from a stint in a mental institution and has been obsessed with Joe’s poetry. Joe’s wife invites her to stay at the villa in the spare bedroom evidently hoping she will be a great distraction for her already unfaithful husband.  Kitty is a botanist and a poet and crazy but in that way that makes her interesting.  She is cathartic. She sees emptiness where it is hidden beneath sarcasm and success.  She recognizes pieces of herself in the others and latches onto them.  Her nakedness is not necessarily vulnerability but seems more about her ability to grasp that things will just not go according to order or plan.  She is not wise or always truthful, she is just raw.

And the pool is the center of the book. It is grimy and green in parts but everyone keeps swimming in it.  The characters meet around it, head to it when life is changing. How the chairs and tables are set by the pool reminds the characters of earlier conversations, of earlier decisions.  And as Levy cleverly points out a pool is shaped like a big watery grave sitting there in the middle of everything.

Levy’s story is a stunning look at depression that I don’t think I have completely grasped.  It is a reminder that any one of us could be on the precipice of life beating us. That any one of us could be drowning and those around us may not notice.  Where we end up is merely a question of how much we have left in us, of how much swimming we can do.

“Life is only worth living because we hope it will get better and we will get home safety. But you tried and you did not get home safely. You did not get home at all.’


Other reviews to check out: 


October 9, 2014 at 7:12 pm Leave a comment

A story has more than two sides – “The Luminaries” by Eleanor Catton

73.Eleanor Catton-The Luminaries“The Luminaries” by Eleanor Catton, Published in 2013. 

I really grew to love this book. It is another long one, over 800 pages, but it uses the space wisely and there is not a piece of it I would have edited out.

In the mid-1800s there was a gold rush in New Zealand.  When Walter Moody arrives in mining town of Hokitika, New Zealand in 1866 he is running from his family, for good reason, and seeking his fortune.  He wanders into one of the towns few pubs where twelve men are assembled.  When he enters they all grow silent and pretend to be otherwise occupied.  However, eventually the men seek Moody’s impartial counsel.  There have been some strange happenings in this questionably sleepy town. A hermit has died and a fortune has been found in his home. The same day a prostitute has tried to kill herself and the richest man in town has disappeared. Each man who has gathered has a piece of the story and they are trying to get to the truth of what has happened.  Each man is somehow involved in what has occurred and of course perspective is a tough editor of truth.  What the banker knows is one thing, but his assumptions are something entirely different. The same goes for the theater owner and town pimp, the minister, and so on.  And solving this mystery is a bit more complicated than the usual who-done-it.

The writing here is impeccable. Catton is a master who sets the stage for her characters beautifully:

“Dusk was falling, bringing with it a rapid drop in temperature, and turning the standing water at the roadside from brown to glossy blue. There was little traffic save for the infrequent cart or long rider making for the warmth and light of the town ahead…one could hear the roar of the ocean already; a dull, pitchless sound, and above the infrequent cry of a sea bird, the call floating thin and weightless above the sound of rain.” 

This is a suspense novel written, as far as I can tell, as a tribute to Wilkie Collins – its technique reminded me of “The Moonstone” and that is a brilliant thing.  The story jumps around and there is a lot of fate and destinies crossing.   And piecing everyone’s story together is a great reminder that the path our lives take involves many stories and many perspectives to get the whole picture.


Other reviews to check out: 


May 8, 2014 at 7:42 pm 6 comments

A momentous nothing – “The Sea” by John Banville

The Sea” by John Banville, Published 2005 

If you are looking for a light read with a clean start-to-finish plot this is not the book for you.  It is, however, a beautifully written examination of a man’s losses and his remaining pieces of life. But ultimately not a lot happens. If you are not looking for a complicated read the back and forth memories can be maddening.  Luckily, I was in the right frame of mind for this book and I loved it.  Another week I may have thrown it down and picked up something else.

Max is a middle-aged writer who has lost his wife, Anna, to cancer.  After spending months watching her waste away and finally losing her battle, Max returns to a beach resort town where he had spent many

Cover of "The Sea"

Cover of The Sea

summers in his youth.  His return seems to be have two purposes. First, he seems to want to revisit the first loss of innocence that he experienced with the Grace family in his very early teens.  Second, it is at the beach resort that he tries to desperately hold onto to his images of his wife.  His desperation asks what maybe we all would ask when losing our partner – “Why have you not come back to haunt me? It is the least I would have expected of you.”

As Max remembers his summer with the Grace family it becomes clear that those relationships – not just with Chloe and Myles (the twin siblings his age) but also with Ms. Grace who was his first unrequited love- shape his future self and leave an unshakable, indelible mark on him.   This storyline of the Graces, though perhaps meant to be the most compelling, for me only paled in comparison to his relationship with his dying wife.  Max talks about how he wished at times Anna would end her own misery for both of their sakes but then feels guilty about this wish.  He also shares a fear that we all have when we lose someone we love, that fear of forgetting everything or really anything at all about the person.  And so, he begins a descend into a drunken haze trying to cope with his loss, of both his wife and the Graces, while at the same time trying desperately to remember.

The sea is itself a character here.  It has that force of nature that ebbs and flows careless but so inviting to the broken people around it, very quickly becoming the catalyst for more than one event in Max’s life.   But Max returns time and time again to the sea, almost as if the sea will somehow explain something, anything.  And Max himself seems to treat life a lot like he is always anchored in the sea – people come along, change Max’s reality and then float away. And yet, Max seems to remain.

Perhaps it is the being left behind that can become so incapacitating. With the losses Max experiences he becomes smaller, almost an inconsequential player in his own life.  Even in his memories Max is continually the observer. But I think in a lot of ways that is how our memories work. We remember those we have loved not necessarily in the ways we interacted with them, but more in a way that lets us remember the smell of the skin, the twist of the hair, the laugh – all pieces of the people we love.  And we do hold tightly to those pieces, so that we don’t forget even if to others these memories are meaningless. So the novel, that seems to be about nothing at all, is really about a lot of very important pieces of a very “momentous nothing.”

March 10, 2012 at 11:27 am 4 comments


There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.


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