Title: Swimming Home
Author: Deborah Levy
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2012
A peaceful family vacation in the sunny Nice, away from the wars and economic crises, is not really going well for the two holidaying families. Jozef, a famous poet, rich and successful, is married to the tough Isabel, a war correspondent and they have a teenage daughter Nina. Mitchell and Laura run a shop in Euston selling African jewellery. There are rifts in the relationships and there are financial pressures, and the swimming pool with its cloudy water has spat out a beautiful girl in their midst. Kitty Finch, mysterious, young and depressed, more like a missing piece in everybody’s life, has gatecrashed into their holidays and their lives.
The novel progresses on the edge of turmoil. The disintegrating state of the world, the gory face of war haunt Isabel, while Jozef’s eerie childhood, his own stints with depression have taken him to a very fragile place. Their teenage daughter Nina is herself going through a delicate phase, looking for an emotional anchor, slightly jealous of her own mother. Mitchell and Laura have their own problems too; their shop is steadily going downhill. Kitty Finch arrives at the villa in the middle of these tensions. Kitty has written a poem, which she calls a conversation with Jozef. Her whole existence seems to revolve around the poem, and her single minded obsession with getting Jozef’s views on the poem. But Kitty’s poem titled ‘Swimming Home’ perhaps is not a poem at all; it is a question she has posed for them all, a challenge waiting to be accepted. As Laura and Mitchell find a support for their failing finances, Isabel lets go of her control, and Jozef finally answers his own question, Nina finds her vacation take a completely unnatural turn.
Swimming home is a complex story. It is not a simple linear, narrative. In fact, timeline does not seem to be crucial to the story. We are offered glimpses into the minds of the characters, the long standing hurts and their final culminations. Levy’s writing is lucid, beautiful, and she creates a powerful collage of emotions in this novel.
But, even though I loved the prose, I was not completely happy with the novel as a whole. It felt incomplete. Levy has created some very strong characters, and weaves intense themes, but these themes seem to lead up to a rushed ending. Levy is clearly a talented writer and I felt a longer novel would have done justice to the story she wanted to tell.