The Cost of Living
by Deborah Levy
‘Life falls apart. We try to get a grip. We try to hold it together. And then we realize that we don’t want to hold it together…’
Picking up where Things I Don’t Want to Know left off, this short, exhilarating memoir shows a writer in radical flux, facing separation and bereavement and emerging renewed from the ashes of a former life. Faced with the restrictions of conventional living, she dismantles her life, expands it and puts it back together in a new shape. Writing as brilliantly as ever about mothers and daughters, about social pressures and the female experience, Deborah Levy confronts a world not designed to accommodate difficult women and ultimately remakes herself in her own image.
I’ve got a love/hate relationship with books by Deborah Levy but I’m always willing to giver her work a try. “The Cost of Living” is an autobiographical collection of essays. Levy is calls this part of her ‘working’ or ‘living’ autobiography, which she started with a book called “Things I Don’t Want to Know” back in 2013. I haven’t read that book, but I don’t think it’s compulsory before giving this one a try.
Levy uses these essays to pick her life apart, exploring her experiences in detail. I listened to this book in audio, but in hindsight I think it would have been better received in print, read one essay at a time.
I really liked that the prose was straight forward, not complicated or full of waffly description. It’s clear to see that Levy is writing honestly about her own life as a writer, a woman, a mother and a daughter. I’m not sure that I would recommend this to someone who has never read any of her work, but if you’ve read any books by Deborah Levy, I’d suggest that you give this a try.
“It’s hard to write and be open and let things in when life is tough, but to keep everything out means there’s nothing to work with.”
The parts I enjoyed the most were about her most recent and my favourite of her novels: “Swimming Home” and “Hot Milk”, as it felt a little like a ‘behind the scenes’ experience for me. A lot of the other essays were about topics that I couldn’t relate to as closely in my personal life, for example her experience with divorce, the loss of her mother and her relationship with her daughters, but I know that all of these topics will resonate with many.
Overall rating: “The Cost of Living” is the second of Deborah Levy’s working autobiographical publications. I enjoyed it for the most part, but found some of the essays to be unrelatable for me personally. I’ll probably go back and read the first in the series at some point as this was an enjoyable 3 star read for me.
See my other reviews of books by Deborah Levy here: