By Deborah Levy
(Bloomsbury USA, Paperback, 9781620401699, 176pp.)
The Short of It:
A melange of strange, but interesting characters. All of them flawed and touched by circumstance.
The Rest of It:
This is one of the books I read in my feverish state so it’s taken me awhile to make sense of my notes. I hope I can accurately convey my thoughts here. There’s nothing like reading a book when your barely conscious.
Joe Jacobs, who happens to be a rather well-known poet, takes a vacation on the French Riviera with his wife Isabel, his daughter Nina and their friends Laura & Mitchell. Upon arrival at the villa they’ve rented for their stay, they find a young woman floating naked, face-down in the pool. As they gather around to watch the spectacle before them, Isabel jumps in to pull her out. Kitty Finch, although drenched and uh, naked, is unscathed and no worse for wear. However, she’s completely unstable and obsessed with Joe’s poetry and wants nothing more than to share her own poem with him.
Before the family can even make sense of the situation, Kitty is invited to stay with them, which seems like a disastrous decision no matter how you slice it. And it is. This family is on the verge of ruin. Early on, it’s clear that Joe and Isabel are not on solid ground as far as their marriage goes and their friends, Laura and Mitchell are on the verge of financial ruin. Nina, young Nina. She’s fourteen, impressionable and dealing with her own demons. She sees Kitty through her father’s eyes and although she has admiration for the free-thinking Kitty, she also sees her as a threat to what is already a delicate situation.
I should mention, that Swimming Home was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize this year. I can see why. It’s complex and woven in such a way, that it has you sitting on the edge of your seat even though you can take a pretty accurate guess at its outcome. There’s a dangerous quality to the writing. These characters are always on the verge of something and it’s disturbing and unsettling but makes for great fiction. It’s super short at only 176 pages, but it’s meaty and rich and had me asking all sorts of questions. Like, what would I do if a naked women showed up in my pool? I certainly don’t think I’d invite her in. That then begs the question, why? Why did Isabel allow it? Was she hoping Kitty would be the final nail in the coffin?
Kitty. What a mess. She’s likable, sort of like Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s but also like Holly, she’s got so much internal baggage, that it’s a wonder how the girl has survived this long. Mental illness and eating disorders and this obsession with Joe Jacobs. She’s got nothing to lose and that makes her dangerous but highly entertaining.
Swimming Home is very British. The New York Times says it’s a “hybrid of Virginia Woolf, Edward St. Aubyn, “Absolutely Fabulous” and Patricia Highsmith.” That pretty much sums it up.
I enjoyed the structure of this novel and the fact that it was edgy without being over-the-top. If you read it, and I surely hope you do, take your time with it. There are little gems that occur between the larger story elements and you don’t want to miss them.
Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Net Galley.
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