Real Estate is the third in Deborah Levy’s trilogy of what she calls ‘living autobiography.’ In The Cost of Living Levy relates how she (or the ‘I’ character who is close to her, if not actually her) leaves her marriage of twenty-three years when her daughters have come to late teenage years. She moves from the family home to a place of her own, a flat in a ‘crumbling apartment block’. Some of that story is about her search for a writing space and the way she gradually creates a new life for herself and her daughters while still maintaining a fairly amicable relationship with their father.
Now her youngest daughter is ready to leave home and attend university away from London the author’s thoughts move to the kind of home she would ideally like to have in this new stage of her life. One that would accommodate her daughters and their friends as well as her own friends. She works at her writing, which is her source of income, but she dreams of this ideal home.
When I’d finally achieved my grand old house with the pomegranate trees, I would have a separate freezer just for chilling glasses. Recently I had replaced the fountains in the grounds of this house with a river at the end of the garden. My unreal estate now included a small rowing boat tied to the jetty of this river.
As she turns sixty, she gains a prestigious job in Paris for nine months, travels to the US and has frequent meetings with the man she calls ‘my closest male friend’. They met at school and are the same age. On his third marriage, to a woman he professes to love deeply, he is unable to move away from his need to be uncritically adored and pampered. He forms a relationship with a much younger woman who is a friend of the author.
As well as the search for home, this is a key theme in her book; the different expectations and life paths of men and women. What does ‘love’ mean to the different sexes? What can she expect or hope for? And is her writing of equal value to that of a man? This crystallises when she gate-crashes a literary gathering and is confronted by a pompous well-known author who asks her.
Do you sometimes look in the mirror and think all this success came rather late in the day and so much exposure is rather vulgar, a total bore and awfully fatiguing?
The author presents a literary and articulate discussion of the issues that still bedevil women. She references other authors; Virginia Woolf. Marguerite Duras, Gloria Steinem, Gertrude Stein, and not only female writers. I especially liked the anecdotes where the author has discussions (and fun) with her friends
‘Well then,’ said Agnes…’I don’t think you really want your house with the river and the rowing boat.’ …
‘No you are quite wrong Agnes,’ I said while I blew out smoke.’ I want that house more than anything else. I want the deeds to that house.’ While I smoked Agnes began to try out a yogic headstand. When she was perfectly aligned, up went her long Scandinavian legs, her toes now pointing towards the ceiling.
So much to enjoy and think about here. I have now purchased three of Deborah Levy’s novels, Swimming Home, Hot Milk and The Man Who Saw Everything.