Deborah Levy – The Cost of Living


There’s something about Deborah Levy’s writing that draws me in instantly. I especially like the way she is able to take profound concepts and stuff them economically in a short sentence. Take her latest novel, Hot Milk, within it’s brief 200 pages, the reader is presented with symbols alluding to relationships and personal freedom, be it the appearance of jellyfish or milk. A Levy book is readable but it pays to take your time and figure the significance of certain animals or events that occur in her novels.

Which brings us to The Cost of Living, Levy’s second volume of her autobiography. This time the theme focuses on Levy’s divorce, and, as always, how it affected her as a writer.

Levy starts the book by an anecdote she heard when travelling; a girl tries to ward off a stalker by telling him that she was diving and then lost her boat. Levy uses this theme to describe her marriage. For there on the Levy describes her move, living with her daughters, her new writing quarters, her relationship with her mother and the genesis of Hot Milk.

Essentially this is a book about the importance of writing but as this is Deborah Levy expect philosophical digressions, such as the symbolism of mythology, with reference to Medusa, the female’s ‘role’ in a relationship, where she focuses on Simone de Beauvoir’s relations with SartreĀ  and author, Nelson Algren, which leads to a meditation on old age. Although Levy prose is sparse, each page is a heady trip, but a pleasure to read.

One thing I liked is that I got an insight to all the elements that went into Hot Milk, which does go to show that the adage that life imitates art is not as ludicrous as it seems. In all this second part of a planned trilogy is a fascinating look at how a writer views the world, this being Deborah Levy, that viewpoint is unique.

Many thanks to Hamish Hamilton for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.