A terrifying tangle of flesh and glass

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Lunatics, Lovers and Poets’ brings us 12 original stories inspired by Cervantes and Shakespeare, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the two writers’ deaths. (We’re marking both at the shop, with Shakespeare as our Author of the Month and a special Cervantes-themed LRB Screen event with A.S. Byatt on 18 April.)

Here’s a tiny glimpse of ‘The Glass Woman’, Deborah Levy’s striking contribution, which was also longlisted for this year’s Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award.

The year is 1849 and yet your lips will not be so very different from my lips and the revolutions in your century will not be so different from ours but now I must take a breath as you must too and with this breath which I still have not taken I will speak to you from where I am now which is Bavaria.

Bavaria 1849.

I am observing a young woman of 23 years in age.
She is an aristocrat. I am a physician.
I am observing the catastrophic poetry of her body.
The month is August, it is past midnight and she is walking sideways with great difficulty down the corridors of the royal palace, her arms stretched in front of her as if she is afraid she will fall. Her green eyes are wide open as she makes her way to her chamber.

Something is wrong with Princess Alexandra Amelie.


On 14 July she demanded that all the furniture in the palace be covered in soft velvet and that no person should be seated next to her at the dining table, not on the right nor the left, and she announced she would no longer be able to ride her horse and that if she was to travel in a carriage it must first be lined with straw. When questioned by her royal parents the princess finally confessed that when she was a child she had swallowed a grand piano made from glass. Consequently, because of her imagined shape and fragility, she is fearful that if she knocks into anything at all or trips over her skirts or if one of the royal dogs jumps into her lap, the glass piano inside her might shatter and she will become a terrifying tangle of flesh and glass.

  • ‘Lunatics, Lovers and Poets’ is published by And Other Stories. Reserve your copy to pick up from the Bookshop.

  • Deborah Levy is at the Bookshop in conversation with Kirsty Gunn about Levy’s latest novel, ‘Hot Milk’, on Friday 8 April. Book tickets here.

  • A.S. Byatt will discuss ‘The Further Adventures of Don Quixote’ with its director Mike Dibb on Monday 18 April, followed by a rare screening of the film. Book tickets here.