Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 17, 2013

Swimming Home (2011), by Deborah Levy

Swimming HomeSwimming Home was shortlisted for the 2012 Booker, and when Paddy O’Reilly recommended it to me, I ordered it from the library straight away.

It’s an intriguing book, extremely unsettling.  It begins with a body floating in the pool but that’s not the mystery that swirls around the reader, it’s only the catalyst for a surreal exploration of the ‘British Family on Holiday on the Continent’, a family that has brought its problems with them.  This is no idyll on the Riviera …

The Sunday Times described this novel as ‘sharp as a wasp sting‘ and that’s a perfect metaphor.  Time and again in this short novel of only 157 pages there is an image which punctures the  reader’s expectations.  Joe, 57, a philanderer and a poet turns out not to be the stiff-upper-lipped Brit that we thought he was.  His wife, Isobel, is a war correspondent who thinks it’s better not to know about everything.  Nina, a tiresome 14 year-old, turns out to be wiser than almost all of them, and Madeleine Sheridan isn’t the harmless old lady that she first appears.

But it’s Kitty Finch who’s the most memorable character.  As soon as she announces that she’s stopped taking her medication she becomes more vivid, more startling and compelling.  Everyone seems transfixed by her and yet no one seems to see what’s going to happen except the reader.

Thanks for recommending it, Paddy!

Kim at Reading Matters reviewed it too.

Author: Deborah Levy
Title: Swimming Home
Publisher: And Other Stories, 2011
ISBN: 9780571299607
Source: Kingston Library

Fishpond: Swimming Home


  1. you got more than I did Lisa I just couldn’t connect with her as a character when I read it hence no review of it ,all the best stu


  2. Although Hillary Mantel won the Booker, I believe Deborah Levy was the real winner because of all the positive reviews and talk about her book ‘Swimming Home’. I plan I reading it quite soon.


  3. Hmm… I didn’t think all that much of this book when I read it last year. It got rave reviews EVERYWHERE and while I appreciated its brevity and the interesting cast of characters (especially Kitty), I just didn’t love it like everyone else.


    • Hi Kim, 8chuckle* I feel as if ‘ve come late to the party with this review, the whole of the Booker discussion passed me by last year because I was away overseas and then things were frantic at work…
      I’ve added a link to your review above, not least because the discussion is interesting too. I think what I liked about it was the clever juxtapositions that made me stop and think e.g. when Isobel writes to make people remember, but Joe writes to make himself forget. And that thread about whether sometimes it’s better not to know, because you can’t ‘un-know’ something, you are burdened with it forever’.


      • Thanks for the link, Lisa.


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