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Things I Don't Want to Know Paperback – 6 Feb 2014
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An up-to-date version of 'A Room of One's Own' . . . I suspect it will be quoted for many years to come (Irish Examiner)
Superb sharpness and originality of imagination. It is feminist and political while being an inspiring work of writing . . . She writes on the high wire, unfalteringly (Marina Warner)
Levy's strength is her originality of thought and expression (Jeanette Winterson)
An exciting writer, sharp and shocking as the knives her characters wield (Sunday Times)
One of the few contemporary British writers comfortable on a world stage (New Statesman)
A writer whose anger and confusion in the face of the world transform into poetic flights of fancy . . . which always feel marvellously right (Independent)
About the Author
Deborah Levy is a British playwright, novelist and poet. She is the author of six novels: Beautiful Mutants (1986); Swallowing Geography (1993); The Unloved (1994); Billy & Girl (1996); Swimming Home (2011); and Hot Milk (2016). Swimming Home was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2012 as well as the Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize, and Hot Milk was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016 and the Goldsmiths Prize 2016. Deborah is also the author of a collection of short stories, Black Vodka (2013), which was shortlisted for the BBC International Short Story Award and the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. She has written for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the BBC.
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From the first sentence I was reminded how much I love Levy's prose: "That spring when life was very hard and I was at war with my lot and simply couldn't see where there was to get to, I seemed to cry most on escalators at train stations." From this position of despair Levy travels to Majorca to write, at the same time being impelled to think back to her childhood in apartheid South Africa (where there are a multitude of things she doesn't want to know) and her later 'exile' in seventies England.
"Things I don't want to Know" is an invigorating read which is perceptive, funny, and also angry. At the centre is Levy, an almost mute child being exhorted by all around her to speak louder. It is in writing that she finally gets to use and control her voice.
It was a pretty different book I thought to Orwell's but I do think that Levy achieved the sort of combination of reflection and politics as a response to living/experiential consequence and as a lived experience. Most of all the style of writing resembles Orwell's being plain but also compellingly readable, it is a real page turner.
The chapter seeking to draw out the politics is weaker, I thought, than others, with citation quotations from feminists and musings upon differences in class or culture among mums waiting in a playground.
Although, it would be unfair to make too close a comparison between Levy and Orwell in this respect, Levy lives in our largely apolitical or unpolitical world, great culture shifts and shocks have taken place in the years between one author and another, much of political language has changed beyond anything Orwell would recognise, where it arises at all (Orwell collected pamphlets and worked in book stores, reading and often political manifestos were the preoccupation of many in the pre-television age, when radio was only beginning to become a mass media even).
These political reflections, and I'd guess or suggest a measure of alienation, are what Levy begins with, then taking a trip or retreat to Majorca she meets interesting local characters and embarks upon a reminiscence about a life in apartheid africa and then exile to seventies england. Along the way Levy finds her voice becoming the writer she is known to many as.
Personally, I found the chapters upon apartheid africa and seventies england the best, I have read some pretty prosaic or informative but unfeeling accounts of oppression under the apartheid regime but Levy imparts what is missing in many of these, the ways in which oppression destroys the oppressor and the oppressed, how it is normalised, how it is threatened not always by the head on assault of opposition but slow change in how the average person feels about other average people they have met. The contrasts with seventies england are good, which is beset with its own special plight, although the narrative has moved on and the reflections upon wanting to be a writer and what is understood by that were heart warming and amusing.
In the final instance this is what good writing should be and it makes for a good read too, there may even be space for some to consider if Levy embellishes or invents, as biographers have speculated about Orwell in his essay's Shooting An Elephant and A Hanging. Recommended.
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