First off: don't read Tom McCarthy's introduction - it gives away the whole thing.
So, Swimming Home is a very short novel that starts with an intriguing two page snippet featuring a man who has been unfaithful He just wants to get back home to his family. Most of the rest of the novel is a dissection of how that situation arose.
The situation turns out to be a famous poet, Jozef Jacobs, on holiday with his wife and daughter and two family friends in the Alpes Maritime in France, mid 1994. Their holiday gets off to an unusual start as they find a stranger at their holiday villa. They welcome the stranger into their midst which, previous novels would suggest, is unlikely to end well. The strength in Swimming Home is that although the menace is ever present, it is not clear exactly how it will manifest itself. Who will end up hurting whom - and why?
The characterisation is not great. Only Kitty Finch, the interloper, seems to have any trace of a third dimension. It really isn't intended to be a character driven novel and the short length wouldn't offer the space for such depth. Instead, it all hinges on atmosphere and suspense, which is why Tom McCarthy's introduction is all the more reprehensible.
So where does Deborah Levy score in Swimming Home? Well, some of the imagery is memorable. Some of the phrasing is quite appealing. And there is real atmosphere. It's just it doesn't feel quite enough. And too much hinges on a poem of devastating power and significance, but the poem is never revealed. This starts out to be tantalising but ends up making the reader suspect that Levy was simply not able to create such a poem. The novel doesn't feel complete and the short-term gratification from reading it soon evaporates, leaving not much trace behind.
Swimming Home will pass some time (but not much time) but it's difficult to see it as anything more significant.
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