November is full of wonderful reading events and I’ve been through the TBR pulling out possibilities for Novellas in November, German Lit Month, Margaret Atwood Reading Month and AusReading Month. Given my current reading and blogging pace it’s highly unlikely that I’ll manage them all, but I’m starting today with a post for Nonfiction November hosted by Doing Dewey.
In many ways this is the least likely of all the events for me to take part in, as I read practically no nonfiction. However, last year I read the first two in Deborah Levy’s ‘living autobiography’ trilogy and absolutely loved them. The bibliophile’s crack-den that is the charity bookshop across the road from my flat never lets me down, and when saw the third instalment in there recently of course I swooped.
Real Estate (2021) sees Levy still living in the flat she moved to when her marriage ended, but as her children leave for university and beyond, she is trying to work out what makes a home, and whether she wants one.
“I was also searching for a house in which I could live and work and make a world at my own pace, but even in my imagination this home was blurred, undefined, not real, or not realistic, or lacked realism. I yearned for a grand old house (I had now added an oval fireplace to its architecture) and a pomegranate tree in the garden. It had fountains and wells, remarkable circular stairways, mosaic floors, traces of the rituals of all who had left there before me. That is to say the house was lively, it had enjoyed a life. It was a loving house.
[…] The odd thing was that every time I tried to see myself inside this grand old house, I felt sad.”
The themes from The Cost of Living and Things I Don’t Want to Know continue, as Levy considers how to live in a way that supports her work and enables her to authentically create her own space in middle-age, in a society that undervalues ageing and especially ageing women.
In Real Estate Levy is looking at the spaces she creates both internally and externally, and the challenge to have both reflecting and supporting the other.
“An extended family of friends and their children, an expanded family rather than a nuclear family, which in this phase of my life seemed a happier way to live. If I wanted a spare room for every friend, my flat could not support this idea. If I wanted a fireplace in every room, there were no fireplaces in my flat. So what was I going to do with all this wanting?”
She takes a fellowship in Paris for a while, living in an apartment she barely furnishes, knowing it will be transitory and focussing on her work. She visits Berlin and Mumbai and holidays in Greece. The various changes of scene don’t enable Levy to reach any conclusions about where to live, or how to reconcile her desires and needs with the practicalities entailed in bricks and mortar. But that’s not the point of these exploratory, reflective living autobiographies. Perhaps the point is that there is no answer – as we evolve and change, so do our needs, and perhaps so does the best place for us to be.
With this volume as with the previous two, Levy is a witty and challenging writer, so much fun while not shying away from serious issues and a strong feminist sensibility:
“Are women real estate owned by patriarchy?… Who owns the deeds to the land in that transaction?”
I particularly enjoyed this encounter at a literary party which she gatecrashes in London:
“A male writer of some note, but not in my own hierarchy of note, had knocked back a few too many gin cocktails. This liberated his desire to find a female writer in the room to undermine […] The truth was that he viewed every female writer as a sitting tenant on his land.”
Real Estate has been marketed as the final volume of Levy’s living autobiography and I really hope that’s not the case. She’s wonderful company.
To end, my own perennial real estate quandary is: do I leave my little London flat for somewhere cheaper so I can have a garden? I’ve been debating this for years and I will leave in the end, but here’s a warning about the perils of leaving London for a trip to the Home Counties (a bit sweary so do avoid if you’re not keen, but the lyric ‘Could you be my big spoon or are you just a bigot in Wetherspoons?’ meant I really wanted to share 😀 )