Billy & Girl
by Deborah Levy
Darkly comic and more than a little disturbing, Billy and Girl introduces a version of childhood trauma that is completely original and utterly unnerving. Abandoned years ago by their parents, Billy and Girl live alone somewhere in England. Girl looks for their mother by going door-to-door and addressing every woman who answers as “Mom,” and Billy fantasizes about a future in which he will be famous – preferably in the United States – as a movie star, a psychiatrist, a doctor to blondes with breast enlargements, or the author of Billy England’s Book of Pain. The siblings support and torture each other, forgetting what they need to forget, inventing worlds they hope will be better, but managing to prolong nightmares as they create alternate personalities in order to survive and conquer and punish.
I’ve had “Billy and Girl” on my wishlist for a while after recently falling in love with the style of author Deborah Levy. I loved “Swimming Home” and I loved “Hot Milk“, so I was hoping to enjoy this one too.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I just feel like I didn’t understand “Billy and Girl” at all. The first few pages told me that this wasn’t my kind of writing style but I stuck at it, hoping that it would turn around and show me some hidden meaning. I’m 100% sure there was intended meaning to its content, sadly I just couldn’t find it.
At times I felt like the book had a slight “The End of the F***ing World” vibe to it. Told through the thoughts of a teenage brother and sister pair, the prose is confused, angry and random. Each chapter is full of short sharp sentences as thoughts come into their heads and leave almost instantly. It’s chaotic, it’s bizarre and at times it’s disturbing.
“Billy smells of Colgate and chips. Sometimes he burns a cork and draws a little moustache on his upper lip.”
Looking through the random fantasy-land thoughts of the siblings, I found it difficult to follow the actual story line. Billy was beaten by his father, Girl (yes, that’s her name) was worked hard by her mother and then we find out that both of their parents have ditched the children and left them to live alone on their grandfather’s gambling winnings. Billy is obsessed with making pizza while Girl goes up to random people’s doors and starts calling them Mum.
“Louise loves pizza. Any kind of pizza. Nothing makes Louise happier than to eat pizza. Thin crust, thick crust, extra cheese, yes please, she even thinks Hawaiian is just fine. Ham and pineapple chunks. Tropical. She smiles her white-teeth smile even when they put egg on her pizza. Why, an egg, how strange and interesting! Her favourite, if she has a favourite because she just loves them all, is American Hot. Pepperoni! Wow! In fact she would like extra pepperoni on her pizza and an egg. If the pizza chain want to try out pineapple chinks and ham with the pepperoni and egg, then she’s up for it. What’s more….”
This book gave me a headache and despite it being less than 200 pages, it felt like it was going on and on and on. I skimmed the last few pages in a desperate attempt to finish it.
Overall rating: It seems I’m torn with the style of Deborah Levy. I’m a big fan of two of her books, yet this and “Black Vodka” just weren’t for me. I found it hard to connect to the characters and I found it hard to know what was going on. Unfortunately it’s one star for “Billy and Girl”.
See my other reviews of books by Deborah Levy here: