Review: Deborah Levy’s Living Autobiography

I adore Deborah Levy’s writing and am trying to read all her published fiction and non-fiction books this year. I started my journey with the audiobooks for the first two books in her Living Autobiography and then read an ARC of the third and for now final book in the sequence. First things first: I adored this experience. I rarely manage to read books in any kind of series this close to each other and here it really worked rather well. Levy writes her non-fiction in much the same way she constructs her novels: perfectly structured, looping back and forth, with sentences so sharp they could cut.

Things I Don’t Want to Know (published March 2013)

The first book in the trilogy focusses on Levy as a writer and how her life experiences influence the way she writes and thinks. I thought the second essay, on her childhood in Apartheid South Africa was pitch-perfect. Her prose is excellent and her structure great as always – even if I do not always agree with the more political points Levy makes. She is very much a second-wave feminist and you can tell.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Cost of Living (published April 2018)

Impeccably structured, heart-breaking and still somehow optimistic, with prose as sharp as ever. I love Levy’s writing. I liked the essays closer to her life more than the ones that tried to draw on wider societal themes but the ending did nearly make me give this five stars. The impressive way she draws back to what she said before and the way in which she constructed this memoir like one of her fiction novels might still make me change my mind. Near perfect.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Real Estate (published by Hamish Hamilton, May 13th 2021)

Organized around musings on Levy’s dream house and what she would like it to be like, this concluding volume draws onto themes explored in the previous books and works as a conclusion in a way that I found highly, highly satisfying. There are few writers whose prose and narrative structure mean that I will read whatever they put out and will enjoy myself even if I do not always agree with their political points. Levy is this good.

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I loved this. I am kind of wistful having now completed all three and I am somehow hoping against hope that Levy decides to keep writing these sharp, wonderful books. Thankfully Levy has an extensive backlist that I can still jump into, probably in publication order now that I finished all her non-fiction.

2 thoughts on “Review: Deborah Levy’s Living Autobiography

  1. Deborah Levy is an author who always seems to be on my periphery, but I have never taken the plunge with one of her books. Your review of her living autobiography has convinced me that I absolutely have to give these three books a go. I didn’t realize that she grew up in Apartheid South Africa and I am fascinated to read about her experiences (I have grown up in post-Apartheid South Africa, born the year after the first democratic election). Thanks for this review, I really enjoyed it 🙂

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