In Swimming Home, Deborah Levy has written a surreal novel that tells a compelling story in a poetic and dreamlike way. Like the swimming pool at the villa where much of the action in Swimming Home takes place, the story line is sometimes cloudy and obscure with much going on beneath the surface.
For a short novel, there is a quite a cast of characters in Swimming Home and it is the four female characters — Kitty, Isabel, Nina and Madeleine — who drive the plot. These women are individually mysterious, powerful and dangerous: Kitty Finch — the uninvited guest who Isabel invites into the villa — is creative but unpredictable, powerful but fragile, mysteriously and fatally linked to the poet, Joe Jacob. In contrast to Kitty, Joe’s wife Isabel is physically strong but her relationship to her husband and daughter is fragile. Like Kitty, Isabel is a mysterious figure — who flits across the action rarely lingering long enough for the reader to fully glimpse and understand her. Nina, the teenage daughter, is a close observer of her parents’ marriage — a relationship that she perceives as broken and tragic and in which she imagines herself playing a central role as the support for her father once her mother has gone. Madeleine the aged doctor, whose vision is failing, ironically sees and interacts with reality more clearly than most of those she observes.
Each of these figures, to some extent, seems to experience life from inside the head of another character. Kitty is linked to Joe Jacob; Nina gains insight through Kitty’s poem; Madeleine perceives how Isabel’s life may unfold; Isabel intuitively senses that Kitty can be a catalyst for change. Yet, for all the insight that is felt, little is spoken in a world where the word ‘etc’ is used to conceal what cannot be said.
Repression, depression, death and madness are the themes of this short novel which often has a magical feel. Here is a garden where hemlock is grown, a world in which, like Joe Jacob’s perfume, the top notes may be quickly forgotten but the deeper fragrance lingers.
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy is published by And Other Stories. eISBN 978-1-908276-06-3