Hamish Hamilton, $22.99 pb, 297 pp
Deborah Levy published the first volume in her ‘living autobiography’ trilogy, Things I Don’t Want to Know, in 2013. Five years later came The Cost of Living. Now we have the finale, Real Estate. Each book is an autobiographical interrogation of women’s middle age in which Levy ambivalently considers the place of the woman writer in the contemporary world.
Things I Don’t Want to Know is a novella-length response to George Orwell’s essay ‘Why I Write’ (1946), and its purpose is reasonably clear. Levy takes Orwell’s premise that good writing must be politically motivated and suggests that her own writerly motivations cannot be so distilled, because the presumption is that while a man writes about life in general, a woman writes about herself in particular. The condescension the woman writer experiences in life will, of course, filter into her literary concerns. Levy recalls Virginia Woolf, who hypothesised, in A Room of One’s Own (1929), that due to material limitations women’s writing might necessarily have to be different from men’s: ‘At a venture one would say that women’s books should be shorter, more concentrated, than those of men, and framed so that they do not need long hours of steady and uninterrupted work. For interruptions there will always be.’