Deborah Levy’s real estate is an elegant exploration of the concept of home: NPR

Real estate: a living autobiography, by Deborah Levy

Bloomsbury editions

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Bloomsbury editions

Real estate: a living autobiography, by Deborah Levy

Bloomsbury editions

Late Immovable, the third installment of the excellent living autobiography of British writer Deborah Levy, Levy discovers that an acquaintance of her knew the late French novelist Marguerite Duras as a child. Hearing this, Levy instantly wants Duras to join them, “to assist and give me some advice on running my house and household.”

Often while reading Immovable, which is a playful, candid, and extremely elegant exploration of Levy’s concept – and her desire for – home, I found myself wishing she would come sit with me.

Levy often makes me an avid reader, eager for more than what she offers. I mean this as a very big praise. His writing, especially in his memoir, tends to take the form of short, slightly lyrical sections, some of which are no longer than a paragraph. Each contains a beautifully distilled idea, a question worth returning to, or a description so flirtatious and charming that it begs the reader to linger on it. In Immovable, Levy reserves her most beautiful handwriting – which, I must note, is never, never flowered – for her “unreal real estate”: the dream house that she designs and redraws throughout the book. It has an egg-shaped fireplace, pomegranate tree and light green shutters. Outside, in her “unreal land”, she keeps a boat moored at the edge of a river.

In real life, Levy spends half of her memoirs living in the tiny London apartment she shares with her youngest daughter – and the other half at a stock exchange in Paris, in an apartment she calls her “empty nest.” “. She knows very well that she cannot afford the “big house” of her dreams; real estate, she writes, is not just “a self-portrait and a class portrait, [but] also a body arranging its members to seduce. For Levy, being seduced is a pleasure, perhaps more than owning the house of his dreams could be. She certainly doesn’t want to sacrifice her personal freedom or artistic integrity on the altar of homeownership: when film executives approach her, asking her to write a movie but rejecting the complex female protagonists that she does. proposes, she never seems swayed by the lure of producing a bad script, cashing in and buying her fantastic home. to the pleasure of wanting: “Maybe, she thinks, was it not [the idea of] home but the desire itself that makes me feel more alive. “

Feeling alive is a major concern for Levy, as is feeling “like herself” – a challenge, she notes, for most women, who are more often encouraged to be nice than to be like us. themselves. She writes with deep love about her aging friend Celia, who rejects “the patriarchal idea of ​​what an old woman should look like: patient, sacrificing herself, meeting everyone’s needs, pretending to be joyful”. Visiting Celia before leaving for Paris propels Levy into a reflection on his own aging, which occupies much of the second half of the memoir. On the cusp of her 60th birthday, after raising two children and overcoming a divorce, Levy feels like she has recently returned home. Yet she finds herself restless, eager to learn new ways of living well – hence her fantasy of getting life advice from Marguerite Duras, or “the unexpected honor. [and] primordial pleasure “she gets when she cooks and spends time with her daughters and their friends. Immovablethe most animated scenes take place in Girls & Women, imaginary cafe Levy jokes about the opening; the main entrance, his daughters tell him, would be vodka and cigarettes.

Immovable is, in large part, a book about the collisions of fantasy and real life, or perhaps a synthesis of the two. This sets it apart from other recent homeownership books, Rachel Cusk’s catastrophic novel Second place to the serious memories of Eula Biss To have and to be had. above all, getting entangled in class guilt, which she investigates without addressing herself. Levy, on the other hand, seems incapable of getting bogged down in guilt, politics, or anything else. This freedom comes in part from her comfort with her own politics, shaped by feminism and her South African family’s dissent against apartheid. It also comes from his style. She casually bounces in and out of reality, relying heavily on allusive logic and weird and charming collages of ideas. In an excellent passage at the beginning of the book, she goes from a banana tree with the “succulent” false eyelashes of the tree merchant to Georgia O’Keeffe; in a way, this progression of images delivers her to her longing for “a home in which I can live and work and create a world at my own pace”.

Reading Immovable is very much like occupying in a world that changes at Levy’s pace. It’s vibrant and kinetic, never predictable and yet always straightforward. Like all of Levy’s books, it’s as good on a second read as the first, if not better. Few writers are able to give so much so quickly. Levy’s hospitality on the page is a delight.

Lily Meyer is a writer and translator living in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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