The nomination of Swimming Home on the Booker longlist is a lot more important than first appears. Upon opening my copy of the novel, I discovered that not only are & Other Stories a not for profit publisher who stand for the writing above the money that is pulled in from selling their titles, but the novel was also backed by Lottery funding. The fact that this novel made it to the Booker longlist shows that great literature isn’t just coming from the big publishing houses, this is a big deal.
It also helps that Deborah Levy’s novel is utterly worthy of its inclusion. Swimming Home is a short, impactful and punchy read that is overflowing with emotion. The premise is basic, but it’s the cast and the craft that has gone into their creation that make the novel a stand out work. The book opens with a glimpse of the end of the story and then proceeds to introduce Kitty Finch who is found swimming naked in the holiday villa pool where the Jacobs family is staying.
Joe, the father, is a famous poet and has taken his family and friends away to enjoy France. Upon the discovery of Kitty, his wife Isabel allows her to stay with them. Of course, this is a bizarre turn of events as nobody knows this young woman, but it seems every character has ulterior motives for everything they do.
What unravels is a tapestry of secrets, lies and truths that threaten to break down the entire group. Each person is suffering in their own way and Levy explores the turbulent emotions of a family in self destruction. For such a short piece of fiction, Levy manages to squeeze each word dry making every vowel and consonant important. It has the impact of a sprawling novel of twice its size, by using concise prose. Her use of language is beautiful and rich while her storytelling is riveting.
Levy has managed to construct a novel that is deeply unsettling in parts, but pulls the reader in ever further. Many of the actions and indeed the finale are disturbing and dark. But through the darkness are moments of light and humour which are used sparsely to leave a tense undercurrent flowing throughout.
This book must be read for varying reasons, but above all the fact that for a book that will take many just one sitting to read, it leaves you with a wealth of feelings to look back on for days.
Published by & Other Stories. This book was kindly supplied by the publisher for review.