The Man Who Saw Everything

Lidija Haas writes:

The world according to Deborah Levy is like an emotionally charged dream or joke. A man accepts soup from an elderly neighbour and retches, catlike, on a mouthful of grey hair. People walk around naked in public. A corpse in a swimming pool is revealed not to be a corpse but a stammering, unstable young woman; a murdered teenage daughter turns out merely to have got her first period and to have abandoned her blood-stained bed to seek comfort in someone else’s; eventually, another body shows up in the pool. A grown woman trapped in the orbit of her resentful, domineering mother, who suffers from a mysterious selective paralysis, finds herself caught between an over-priced clinic shaped like an enormous breast and an ocean teeming with medusa jellyfish. Memory ‘is a bomb’. Stakes are always very high. This is the way Levy operates in real life too, to judge from her non-fiction. On her father’s attitude to inanimate objects: ‘According to him they had to be understood, never bullied or tortured. To fill a kettle through its snout and not to take the lid off was to humiliate the kettle.’ (The reader has already learned that Levy’s father was licensed to use such language by having spent four years of her South African childhood as a political prisoner.) On separating from the father of her children in her fifties: ‘Freedom is never free. Anyone who has struggled to be free knows how much it costs.’ On Marguerite Duras’s way of conveying the return of the repressed: ‘She had made a language in film that cut as close to human subjectivity as it is possible to get without dying of pain.’

(LRB 2 January 2020)

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