>> Thursday, September 27, 2012
Swimming Home is a subversive page-turner, a merciless gaze at the insidious harm that depression can have on apparently stable, well-turned-out people. Set in a summer villa, the story is tautly structured, taking place over a single week in which a group of beautiful, flawed tourists in the French Riviera come loose at the seams. Deborah Levy's writing combines linguistic virtuosity, technical brilliance and a strong sense of what it means to be alive. Swimming Home represents a new direction for a major writer. In this book, the wildness and the danger are all the more powerful for resting just beneath the surface. With its deep psychology, biting humour and deceptively light surface, it wears its darkness lightly.Levy takes the very familiar setup of two middle-class British families on holiday in a French villa and, according to seemingly hundreds of gushing reviews, uses the introduction of a stranger bent on causing trouble to make it into an affecting examination of depression and madness.
I'm afraid I'll have to file this one under "not for me", even if it marks me as a complete philistine. I read about half the book, so I did honestly give it a shot. All I got from that, however, was characters who weren't really characters, but puppets created by the author to make a point. They didn't behave like real people, they didn't feel like people at all. They weren't even interesting.
Was Levy just drawing their silhouettes, leaving it to readers to do half the work and flesh out the rest of the space? If so, I don't think she was successful. These characters didn't feel sparingly written, they felt underwritten and half-baked.
It seemed to me as I was reading that Levy was trying to create a sense of menace and doom. Something was clearly going to go tragically wrong, and we didn't know exactly what or how. Well, I guess she was successful in creating that menacing atmosphere, but the problem is, if you don't give a fig about any of the characters, then the tension doesn't work. I felt a small degree of intellectual curiosity about what would happen, but no particular sense of urgency to find out. So if this atmosphere and mood were the point of the book, rather than the characters (as I'm beginning to suspect), then that didn't work for me at all, either.
MY GRADE: It was a DNF.