Book Review: 2012 Shortlisted: Deborah Levy's Swimming Home (Review #2)

Rating: 2.5
Swimming Home
A Novel by Deborah Levy
2012 / 157 Pages

And then Laura changed the subject and asked Isabel if she thought Kitty Finch might be a little … she searched for the word … ‘touched’? The word stuck in her mouth and she wished she had another language to translate what she meant, because the only words stored inside her were from the school playground of her generation, a lexicon that in no particular order started with barmy, bonkers, barking and went on to loopy, nuts, off with the fairies and then danced up the alphabet again to end with cuckoo.

Swimming Home is a very short book. Short on pages, short on characters and short on catching my interest.

The story takes place in the south of France where 2 English couples are spending their holidays at a rented cottage or condo. Joe and Isabel have a strained relationship and a 14-year-old daughter, Nina. She is wise to the fact that her parents don’t seem to really like each other much and she often imagines the day when she will be forced to choose which parent to live with. To complicate matters further Joe is a famous poet who is also a womanizer and Isabel is a war correspondent who has spent much of Nina’s life away from home. Mitchell and Laura are the other couple sharing the condo and you could not pick a more bland pair than these two. Mitchell is a foodie who loves guns and Laura is so unforgettable that all I remember about her is her name and the fact that she and her husband have just been forced to close their business (emporium? restaurant? shop?). They cannot afford this trip but they have to be there (it seems) to prompt reactions from Joe and Isabel as their weird marriage implodes. Being forced to spend this holiday together seems to be absolute torture for everyone.

Enter Kitty Finch, an eccentric redheaded botanist who loves to be naked and wear green nail polish. They find her one morning floating faced down in the pool. After some weird debate between the couples about whether or not Kitty is a bear (???) Isabel dives in to save her. But, no worries, she was just hanging out, like you do– naked in someone else’s pool. It seems that she is a fan of Joe’s poetry and came just to see him. She knows for a fact that his poetry was written specifically for her. She is quickly invited to stay in the spare room by Isabel (who is secretly hoping to catch Joe in a dalliance and have the excuse she finally needs to leave him once and for all). Trouble is, Nina seems to be more infatuated with Kitty Finch than Joe is. That is, until she realizes that Kitty is all out, ass-snapping INSANE– once committed to the psyche ward for electric shock treatments by the neighbour, Dr. Madeline Sheridan (it is her birthday, by the way and she hates being old).

Will Joe take the bait? Should Nina tell someone about Kitty’s suicide poem and rock collecting habits? Who is the crazy one? Will Madeleine get what she wants for her birthday? Will Mitchell ever stop eating? The answer is WHO CARES! I think I may have missed something– I really thought it was a weird story with B-movie characters. At only 157 pages this was definitely the fastest read of all of the Man Booker short-listed books but was it the best??? I don’t think so. I am in the Penny and Michelle camp on this one– sorry Aaron! I wanted to like it but the story felt very dysfunctional and incomplete.  2.5 stars sounds about right!

This review was posted simultaneously by Jackie on BookerMarks.