Swimming Home – an inspiring exploration of human journeys

I don’t normally write reviews, and I’m not sure that this is one, but I couldn’t help myself. I needed to dedicate some space to a novel, Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home, which got under my skin and is still turning over in my mind.

Levy takes an intelligent and bold look at the way depression can have many forms and how it can affect those who seem “mad” and/or seem “sane” from the outside. The portrayal of the flighty, slightly obsessive and strangely grounded Kitty Finch seems like she has the basis to be the archetypal depressed person; the stereotypes are thrown from her in all directions.  Yet she is held in comparison to the normal, yet not so normal, Jacobs family who are placed in the middle of so many conflicts: Isobel, the mother, works as a war correspondent; Joe, the father, works as a poet reporting on the times in a totally different way; Nina, the daughter, is forming within her teenage years with internal and external conflict with herself and those around her, particularly affected by how her parents’ relationship ebbs and flows.

Levy explores how the three of them have to feel their way through their shared time: it’s infrequency allows for a summer a year where they can play at being a family. They are disrupted firstly by Isobel’s need to invite a friend along to cope with the time with her family, yet Laura and Mitchell also have their hidden conflicts and everyone’s surfaces are hiding their depths, waters as cloudy as the over chlorinated pool. How they are all disrupted by the uninvited visitor, Kitty Finch, goes on to unravel and also concrete their relationships with each other. This subject or theme of the disruption by the Other has been an interest of mine for some time, both in reading and writing; I think Kitty has just replaced Ali Smith’s Amber (The Accidental) as my all time favourite disrupter. Or maybe a joint first place…

Levy’s portrayal of depression felt so true to life, the way it is known and not discussed or dealt with; through institutions as it is with Madeline’s reaction to her understanding of Kitty, or within the Jacob’s family, or indeed with Laura and Mitchell off page relationship. There is very rarely an open middle ground and it quite easily can become a monster in the dark that claims the strongest. This is open exploration where what is not written is just as important as what has been written.

I came across this novel in the London Review Bookshop when on an Indie hunt. The Guardian started up their Love your Indie campaign for Independent Bookshops, and although I wanted to find some new independent stops to find new inspiration within, the London Review Bookshop is one of my favourites with fantastic staff and a brilliant layout. It isn’t huge, but there is now a cake shop next door and of course the much needed sofas and chairs placed so that you can get to grips with your purchases before even leaving. My needs are simple, what can I say. Deborah Levy is reading from Swimming Home at the end of the month which I would recommend!

With the right book we can all travel far.

© And Other Stories

The reason why I picked up this book was because of the cover. I know, don’t judge and all that, but I will always be more likely to pick up a book with a striking cover and clearly those behind And Other Stories have put their minds to how the book design should work. That’s not all they have been thinking on either; And Other Stories publications are based on a subscription from readers, thus creating the audience before the novels are available. They are exciting and unusual stories that other publishers may not take a risk on, they are not cheap but then most paperbacks are £7-£9 so why not spend £10 on a beautiful book inside and out.

shamelessly literary

© Stuart Evers, Guardian

All subscribers are thanked in the books, receive a numbered first edition (300 limit) and they really do want to hear from you as readers. I think, in my very humble opinion, it’s a fantastic model for publishing, and if it gets the novels across to readers who are connecting with the stories then all the better. Levy’s Swimming Home is the third in the series of four novels for 2011 from And Other Stories. I will be subscribing – will you?

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