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Swimming Home: A Novel Paperback – October 16, 2012

3.3 out of 5 stars 162 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This short but extraordinary novel, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2012, takes place in the south of France, where two English couples and one’s teenage daughter are sharing a vacation home. One day a woman, Kitty Finch, emerges naked from the swimming pool and becomes the force field shaping the couples’ actions and those of the few secondary characters for the succeeding week. Kitty is, in the words of Levy’s spare and haunting prose, “a window that was waiting to be climbed through.” The tension between the two families—poet Joe (Jozef) Jacobs, his war correspondent wife, Isabel, and their daughter, Nina; and Mitchell and his wife, Laura—is palpable, and Levy’s surgically precise language insightfully reveals their characters with the intensity of a tightly controlled play. Levy’s changes of pace and tone, from poetic to vulgar, drive this very arresting novel—at times suggestive of D. H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf—to its unsettling conclusion. --Mark Levine


“Readers will have to resist the temptation to hurry up in order to find out what happens . . . Our reward is the enjoyable, if unsettling, experience of being pitched into the deep waters of Levy's wry, accomplished novel.” ―Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review

“Elegant . . . subtle . . . uncanny. . . The seductive pleasure of Levy's prose stems from its layered brilliance.” ―Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“Here is an excellent story, told with the subtlety and menacing tension of a veteran playwright.” ―Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

“Exquisite . . . Levy's sense of dramatic form, as she hastens us toward the grim finale, is unerring, and her precise, dispassionate prose effortlessly summons people and landscapes.” ―The New Yorker

“Wholly new, fresh and yes, profound . . . [Swimming Home] floats like a wasp, and stings like one too.” ―Tucker Shaw, The Denver Post

“Ms. Levy is a stealthy storyteller, lulling us while busy scattering clues.” ―The New York Times

“Levy winds her characters up and watches them go, and they do as most humans do, which is to mess up in the face of desire. Her novel is utterly beautiful and lyrical throughout, even at the most tragic turns….A shortlisted nominee for the Man Booker Prize, deserving of the widest readership.” ―Booklist (starred review)

“Short, simple and haunting.” ―Huffington Post, Editor's Picks: Best Books 2012

“This perfectly written, expertly crafted short book…[is] so well done and so clever.” ―Chicago Tribune, Printers Row

“Levy is a keenly attentive writer, alive to the hyperreal nature of things, her prose achieving a hallucinatory quality as things seem to float out of the characters' minds and into the text … Levy manipulates light and shadow with artfulness. She transfixes the reader: we recognize … the thing of darkness in us all. This is an intelligent, pulsating literary beast.” ―The Telegraph (UK)

“A statement on the power of the unsaid … Levy's cinematic clarity and momentum … convey confusion with remarkable lucidity.” ―Times Literary Supplement (UK)

“Witty and poignant.” ―Sunday Times (UK)

“One of the finest new novels I have read (and already reread) in a long time … it radiates the sensual languor of sun-drenched afternoons in the south of France and the disquieting, uncanny beauty only perceived by a true daytime insomniac.” ―The Guardian (UK)

“Allusive, elliptical and disturbing…Often funny and always acute…Swimming Home reminded me of Virginai Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. Although a short work, it has an epic quality. This is a prizewinner.” ―The Independent (UK)

“Swimming Home is a beautiful, delicate book underpinned by a complexity that only reveals itself slowly to the reader.” ―Financial Times (UK)


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; Reprint edition (October 16, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 162040169X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1620401699
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.5 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (162 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #256,126 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By TChris TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 24, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
"Life is only worth living because we hope it will get better and we'll all get home safely." So says Kitty Finch, the central character in Swimming Home, a powerful, offbeat novel that explores the impact an intruding outsider has on the relationships of two couples who are sharing a vacation home in the Alps-Maritimes. Whether any of the vacationers will get home safely becomes the novel's burning question.

Philandering London poet Joe Jacobs (formally known as Jozef Nowogrodski), together with his wife Isabel (a war correspondent) and daughter Nina, are spending the summer of 1994 with Laura and Mitchell, the owners of a failing shop in Euston. The friends are enjoying the sun when they see a naked woman floating in the pool. The swimmer, Kitty French, isn't exactly stalking Joe Jacobs, but it's no coincidence that she's appeared at the villa. Isabel soon asks Kitty to stay on as a guest, a decision that surprises everyone else. Also vexed by Kitty's arrival is a neighbor, Dr. Madeleine Sheridan, who has an unhappy history with Kitty. Madeleine believes "human beings had to suffer real hardships before agreeing to lose their minds" and can find no excuse for Kitty's aberrant behavior.

Kitty clearly has mental health issues. She spends much of her time naked, she's off her antidepressants, and she was once institutionalized and subjected to shock treatments. Kitty seems determined to have Joe read a poem she has written ("Swimming Home"), which she describes as a conversation with Joe and no one else.
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Format: Paperback
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy is a work of beauty. Every year I read a novel or two that take my breath away with their prose. Last year those were Please Look after Mom by Kyung-sook Shin and On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry. So far this year, this was the only book I've read and thought: wow! I'm sure I'll squeeze another one in before 2012 expires.

What did I like about this novel? Well, it would be easier to say what I did not like; the fact that I wasn't the one to write it.

At first the story seems quite simple. A couple, Joe and Isabel, a poet and his war correspondent wife, arrive for a holiday in the hills above Nice, France, accompanied by their young daughter and a friendly couple. So far so good, one would say. The thing is though, that there's more to this group of people that at first meets the eye. To start with the poet he is an egocentric man who's in love with his own voice and a womanizer. His wife doesn't really like him anymore, and seems to be looking for a way to break up the marriage. The other couple hides a big secret, and as for the daughter, well, to put it in a Chinese proverb way: she was cursed to be born in interesting times, and under unusual circumstances.

Things get even more complicated when Kitty Finch, a young and almost ethereal woman, shows up all of a sudden in their holiday villa. She claims that there was a mix-up in the reservation dates and now she has no place to stay.

Well, normally, given the setting and the circumstances, one would offer her a cup of tea and sent her on her way. Isabel though things differently, so she invites her to stay with them, knowing all too well that, sooner rather than later, Joe will go after her.
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Format: Paperback
"Life is only worth living because we hope it will get better and we'll all get home safely."

After spotting this on Netgalley I found myself intrigued but ultimately willing to wait for it to be published. A few days later the Shortlist for the 2012 Man Book Prize was announced and Swimming Home was included, so I decided it was fate that I stumbled upon this book yet again so I went ahead and snagged it.

Kitty, botanist, poet, and part-time exhibitionist suffering from depression, travels to France to meet poet Joe Jacobs who she insists she has a connection with. His wife, Isabel, inevitably gets invited to stay with him and his family and the couple that traveled with them. Isabel Jacobs, a war correspondent, is married to Joe; however, their marriage is in shambles and is obvious to anyone in their proximate vicinity. It is unclear to everyone why Isabel would allow such a girl as Kitty to stay with them, especially considering her obvious fascination with Joe.

"When Kitty Finch took her hand off the steering wheel and told him she loved him, he no longer knew if she was threatening him or having a conversation."

Swimming Home is a short yet trying read that could almost be considered a novella or even a vignette; a snapshot of that fateful week in France. The writing was intermittently lovely but I found myself unclear as to where the story was going. I can't help but feel I'm lacking in something by not being able to appreciate these 'literary masterpieces' as they should be. Comments were made by the judges of the Booker Prize this year that they're steering clear of mainstream books and that readability isn't high on their list of importance.
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