by Deborah Levy
The moment beautiful ‘flame-haired’ Kitty Finch emerges naked from the swimming pool, each of the holiday-makers at the villa smells trouble, but none of them realises just how dangerous she will prove to be.
Each of the characters has their own reason for unease and these are gradually revealed over the course of this short but well-crafted novel. Kitty looks like bait for the predatory ‘arsehole poet’ Joe Jacobs; she is the catalyst for despair for his TV journalist wife, Isabel, who prefers to place herself in warzones rather than witness her husband’s serial womanizing; she is a rather more subtle threat to overweight, trigger-happy, Mitchell and his wife, Laura. But the person whose stability is most put at risk, however, is Joe and Isabel’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Nina, who Levy introduces, ‘standing at the edge of the pool in her new cherry-print bikini,’ looking ‘anxiously at her mother.” That new cherry-print bikini is worth a hundred words and is characteristic of Levy’s brilliantly understated and subtly complex style. For Nina, Kitty is not only another potential hazard to the status quo of her shaky family, she also represents the young woman in all her complexity that Nina is becoming. Nina has the deepest empathy and understanding of Kitty, but even she doesn’t realise to what extent her father will be unable to resist her siren call.
SWIMMING HOME is a compelling story and made my five hour train journey between Cornwall and London whizz by. It was short-listed for the 2012 Man Booker Prize.
Published by Faber & Faber, 176pp.