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.

Wrap Up March 2021

Was this my worst reading month since I started my blog? Absolutely. I could not get myself to read when I found the time to do so and I did not have much time to read to begin with.

Books I read in March:

  1. Real Estate by Deborah Levy: 4 out of 5 stars
  2. Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan: 3.5 out of 5 stars (review)

I also DNF-ed two books (Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron and The Conductors by Nicole Glover)- I read so little I really could not make myself continue with books I wasn’t enjoying a lot.

Favourite of the Month:

I guess Real Estate by default. I read the whole Living Autobiography sequence this year and found the experience really rewarding – but haven’t quite yet found the words to talk about the books yet.

Stats(ish):

I read two books, both by women. One non-fiction title and one fiction novel.

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

I should definitely not be getting to anything new but rather work on finally finishing the books I am already reading. This is not my best reading mode – as I have talked about before, four books is my sweet spot.

Wrap Up February 2021

I am trying to finish my PhD thesis this year and recently decided that this means that I will have to try to write something every day. This is going, well, not great, but better than before. But this also means that I do not have as much time for reading. I am still quite pleased with my reading month..

Books I read in February:

  1. Hall of Smoke by H. M Long: 3.5 out of 5 stars (review)
  2. Beautiful Mutants by Deborah Levy: 4 out of 5 stars
  3. The Unwanted Wife by Natasha Anders: 3 out of 5 stars
  4. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke: 5 out of 5 stars
  5. Women and Other Monsters by Jess Zimmermann: 3.5 out of 5 stars (review)

Favourite of the Month:

I adored Piranesi. I was fairly sure I would and Clarke delivered. Her prose is as excellent as ever and this tiny book packs such a punch. I loved trying to solve its mystery and cannot recommend it highly enough.

Stats(ish):

I read five books, all of them written by women. I read one non fiction title, one romance, one literary fiction, one fantasy, and one thing I would call literary speculative fiction.

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

I should just finish the books I am currently reading before my squirrel brain is allowed to start anything new again. I am, however, very excited for quite a few March releases, especially The Unbroken by C. L. Clark and Redder Days by Sue Rainsford – I hope this stays this way, so that I can actually read them.

Wrap Up January 2021

I am determined to have a better reading year than last year and very purposefully chose my books. I finally finished a few books I had been reading way too long and I am now trying to just pick the books I am absolutely feeling like going forward. This worked out well for this month.

Books I read in January:

  1. Open Book by Jessica Simpson: 4 out of 5 stars
  2. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo: 3 out of 5 stars
  3. Things I Don’t Want To Know by Deborah Levy: 4.5 out of 5 stars
  4. Magic Stars (Kate Daniels #8.5) by Ilona Andrews: 3 out of 5 stars
  5. You Perfect, Broken Thing by C. L. Clark: 4 out of 5 stars
  6. The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin: 3.5 out of 5 stars
  7. Magic Heir (Aurelia Ryder #1) by Ilona Andrews: 4 out of 5 stars
  8. The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

My favourite thing I read this month were the first two installments of Deborah Levy’s living autobiography. The last part will be published later this year and I am very excited. While I do not always agree with Levy’s points, her prose is stunning and her structure impeccable. I cannot wait to read more of her backlist while I wait for her next book.

Stats(ish):

I read 8(ish) books this month. Six were written by women and two by an author team. Three books can be categorized as fantasy, three were non-fiction, one was translated fiction, and I also read one short story.

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

I am very close to finishing A Crooked Tree (started brilliantly, is currently dragging) and Hall of Smoke (great world, great main character, odd pacing). Afterwards I will hopefully start on my March ARCs. I am especially excited for Redder Days by Sue Rainsford and The Unbroken by C. L. Clark. Twitter decided on my next physical book (Piranesi by Susanna Clarke) and I could not be more excited. I also did not read a short story collection this month and need to remedy that as soon as possible.

Favourite books of 2020

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a New Year’s Eve as good as it could be under the circumstances. Mine was low-key but lovely and I am genuinely excited to live in the new year. I always spend New Year’s Day looking back at my reading and planning ahead. This year I decided to start this with one of my favourite posts to write: My list of favourite books of the year.

I read less in 2020 than I have in the past: usually I easily manage to read 100+ books a year; this year it became clear early on that this wouldn’t happen and I ultimately read 75 books. But I also read some truly amazing books that I want to keep shouting from the rooftops about. Quite a few books on this list can be categorized as “Rachel was right and I should have listened earlier” (if you look at her best of 2019 year list, you’ll see (spoiler alert) quite some overlap).

My list is composed of ten books, 8 of which were written by women, one by a husband and wife team, and one by a man. 5 books are fiction and 5 books non-fiction. The list is embarrasingly white (7 of the ten authors) which is something I want to be more mindful of this coming year.

10) Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
One of the first books I read and one of the very best. I loved this book a whole lot – everything about it just ticked a lot of my boxes. The big draw for me is the way in which Evaristo’s language flows (this will be a running theme here) and the way in which she made me invested into every single character’s story. I would have loved for this to win the Women’s Prize (even if I also really really liked Hamnet) or for this to have won the Booker on its own. (review)

9) Actress by Anne Enright
This was hands down my favourite of the Women’s Prize longlist and a book I would surely not have read if it hadn’t made the list. I thought the prose was beyond excellent, and the winding, narrowing stream-of-consciousness narration a thing of absolute brilliance. I think part of my enjoyment comes down to the audiobook which Enright reads herself, absolutely pitch-perfect. I liked this so much that I want to go back to Enright’s older stuff to see what I missed before. (review)

8) A Mind Spread Out On The Ground by Alicia Elliott
In this absolutely incredible work of non-fiction, Elliott combines memoir with essay writing, drawing from her own experience and extrapolating to larger societal problems in a way that seems custom-made for me. I thought this was incredible. Heart-breaking. Clever. Impeccably structured.

7) The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
I loved this. So very, very much. It does many things I adore in fiction: old unchronologically from a variety of points of views, featuring difficult characters that I nevertheless rooted for (especially Vincent who I just adored), with hints of the supernatural as manifestation of guilt, scenes that would recontextualize what came before, and above all the author’s incredible way with words. (review)

6) In The Dream House by Carmen Mario Machado
One of the rare books that is as impeccably written as it is emotionally resonant. Machado was already one of the writers I am always most looking forward to reading but this was something else. She chronicles her own abusive relationship while also flexing her impressive writing muscles and the end result is a stunning, perfect book of narrative non-fiction.

5) Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews
I love, love, love this series by Ilona Andrews and this installment was my favourite of the year by the author duo (and I read 9 books written by them). I cannot believe I have to wait until 2022 for the final book in this second trilogy but I am sure the wait will be worth it. I am making my way through their complete backlist (including the novellas) and I am loving pretty much every minute of it. (review)

4) Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson
Incredibly well-written memoir in essays; dealing with female bodies, illness, bodily autonomy, and many things more. The essays hit me right in the feelings and I found them perfectly structured. Everything about this works for me. I listened to the audiobooks which I can whole-heartedly recommend.

3) No Visible Bruises by Rachel Louise Snyder
One of the final books I finished this year and really one of the very best. It is impeccably researched and absolutely breathtakingly structured. Snyder uses case studies to illustrate her points and to drive home the emotional impact of what she is writing about. She did have to make some decisions regarding what she will focus on and I am not always sure they were necessarily the best (she nearly exlusively focusses on heterosexual relationships) but it did make the book insanely readable. I teared up more than once reading this and I want to put this into everybody’s hands.

2) The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy
or, the book that should have won the Women’s Prize but somehow wasn’t even longlisted. This is brilliant. Hands down, perfect. Structured incredibly clever, with wonderful prose, and a narrator that I wanted to shake but also could not help but feel for. I will eventually read everything Levy has ever written, probably starting with her ongoing non-fiction project – this book was just that good.

1 ) Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe
I read this book back in February and nothing could top it for the rest of the year. This is narrative non-fiction at its finest. Combining more personal stories with a more general overview of The Troubles, I could not imagine this book being any better. I felt more knowledgable upon finishing it while also thinking this was impeccably written. What an absolutely brilliant piece of narrative non-fiction.

What was your favourite book of the year? Have you read any of these?

The Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag 2020

I cannot believe the year is halfway over. Being perfectly honest, I haven’t so far had the best of reading years. I was considering not doing this tag for the first time since I have my blog but that felt too sad.

Question 1 – The best book you’ve read so far in 2020

I am trying to rank all the books I am reading this year (surprisingly hard!) and one of the things that I am struggling with is my top spot. At the moment it is between The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy and Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe. I cannot yet say which one will ultimately win out but I can say now that both of these books are incredible in their own way.

Continue reading “The Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag 2020”

Wrap Up February 2020 or where did the month go?

I had an incredibly bad reading month, quantity wise. For some reason or other, I was not able to just sit down and read. Parts were due to the incredible high workload I have (I need to get SO much done before I go on leave in April), parts were just general none-interest. I did love or really enjoy every book I finished though, so there is that.

Books I read in February:

  1. Follow Me To Ground by Sue Rainsford: 4 out of 5 stars
  2. Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe: 5 out of 5 stars
  3. A Heart of Blood and Ashes (A Gathering of Dragons #1) by Milla Vane: 4 out of 5 stars (mini-review)
  4. How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones: 4 out of 5 stars
  5. The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy: 5 out of 5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

Say Nothing. I cannot recommend this book highly enough – I thought I would like it, I did not realize how very much I would love it. The Man Who Saw Everything was a close second though – I really appreciated this clever, clever, clever book.

Stats(ish):

I read three books written by women and two written by a male authors. Three of the books I read on audio and two as ebooks. I read one literary fiction novel, one short speculative literary fiction novel, one fantasy book with a strong focus on romance, one memoir and one non-fiction title.

Currently Reading:

If I don’t finish The Illness Lesson this weekend, I will call it quits. I think it is partly responsible for my slump – because it is an arc and somewhat lific adjacent, I feel too guilty to start another book before finishing it but I am also really, really not enjoying it. Love her or Lose Her is surprisingly boring for a Tessa Bailey novel but I am determined to stick with it – I do want to know how they resolve their issues. I got sidetracked by Verge’s arrival (and should be finished with it soon), so I have not picked up Orange World in weeks. The two fantasy books are just really long.

Books I should get to soon:

It’s Women’s Prize longlist time! I am so excited and cannot wait to dive into whatever this will bring. Here are some longlist predictions to give an indication what might be to come: Emily’s, Naty’s, Jess’, and my own.