I read the three volumes that make up Deborah Levy’s Living Autobiography over the year, beginning with the slim Things I Don’t Want to Know, a writer in the cocoon stage of transformation, the threads wound tight. A confrontation with denial, it is equally enticing as it is uncomfortable, it reveals as it obscures trying to fit into George Orwell’s framework from his essay ‘Why I Write’.
In The Cost of Living, a more expansive narrative, the threads unravel and insights are plentiful, though some of the thinking that created the earlier restrictiveness remain.
And now the final volume, Real Estate, which might as easily have been called UnReal Estate, in tumeric coloured silk, Levy has shed the cocoon, ready to embrace a new decade, the nest empty.
I became obsessed with silk. I wanted to sleep in it and wear it and somehow knew it had healing properties. It started when a royalty cheque came in and I took it literally and began to sleep by royalty.
With marriage and motherhood behind her, she dreams of a home with a fountain in the garden, a mimosa tree, a place to welcome friends, unencumbered by practicalities or marital vows.
Yet in my unreal estate dreams my nest was not empty.
If anything the walls had expanded. My real estate had become bigger, there were many rooms, a breeze blew through every window, all the doors were open, the gate was unlatched. Outside in the unreal grounds, butterflies landed on bushes of purple lavender, my rowing boat was full of things people had left behind: a sandal, a hat, a book, a fishing net. I had recently added light green shutters to the window of the house.
As with the previous book, there are recurrent themes, there is a sense of humour and a search for something elusive in the idea of an appealing mature woman character. Deconstructing the stereotype of these persona, she ponders why no scripted female characters had full lives of their own.
It occurred to me that what was wrong with the scripts was that the mothers and grandmothers were always there to police the the more interesting desires of others, or to comfort them, or to be wise and dull.
Accepting a fellowship at the same time her younger daughter leaves home, she prepares to spend some months in a bare apartment in Paris, a new source of inspiration and insight, rereading and reflecting on the works of Simone de Beauvoir, Marguerite Duras and Katherine Mansfield, researching the subject of the doppelgänger.
My empty nest in Montmartre was really a version of my two writing sheds, except I could cook and sleep in it. I worked through the night on my new novel, while the sculptor downstairs worked through the night with her electric saw.
Approaching her sixth decade, somewhat in isolation brings on a melancholic reckoning, a party and as the mimosa blooms, the mood lifts.
It’s not easy to describe the book, being a circular narrative that moves forward at the same time revisiting themes, turning back on itself, considering different perspectives.
The combination of grit, pearls of wisdom and humour, combine in a rollicking read of interconnected thoughts and observations, the searching for and letting go of ideas, those that promise an experience and the outdated that no longer serve the purpose of finding contentedness as a mature woman.
I loved it, finishing it in two days, and all the more for having struggled through the first volume, been both delighted and frustrated by the second and arrived here, at the evolution of an observation and examination of what it means to live, to love, let go and just be.