Author(s): Deborah Levy
Taking George Orwell's famous essay, 'Why I Write', as a jumping-off point, Deborah Levy offers her own indispensable reflections of the writing life. With wit, clarity and calm brilliance, she considers how the writer must stake claim to that contested territory and shape it to her need. Itis a work of dazzling insight and deep psychological succour, from one of our most vital contemporary writers.
This first volume of the trilogy focuses on the writer as a young woman - the confusion and turbulence of youth, and the uncertainties of carving an identity as a writer. The second volume, The Cost of Living, speaks to the challenges of middle age as a writer and a woman - motherhood, separation, bereavement.
In 1946 George Orwell wrote an essay ‘Why I Write’, in which he described some events that marked his development towards becoming a writer and outlined what he saw were the four main motives for writing: ‘Sheer egoism’, ‘Aesthetic enthusiasm’, ‘Historical impulse’ and ‘Political purpose’. He explained that he would not naturally have become a political writer had circumstances not demanded it. Responding to this essay but contrasting the bluntness of its assertions with a subtler and less direct approach, Deborah Levy, who re-emerged from undeserved obscurity when she was shortlisted for the 2011 Booker Prize for Swimming Home (now shelved beside 1989’s Beautiful Mutants at home), takes Orwell’s four ‘motives’ as titles for pieces of memoir: of her childhood in South Africa (where her father was imprisoned for five years as a member of the ANC); of her teenage years in England, wishing to ‘belong’; and of a time she spent in the off-season at a small mountain hotel in Majorca, despondent, wondering how to deal with things she didn’t want to think about and doubting her ability to get her writing out into the world. As she talks with a Chinese shopkeeper, another displaced character, over dinner, she comes to some resolve: “To become a writer I had to learn to interrupt, to speak up, to speak a little louder, and then louder, and then to just speak in my own voice which is not loud at all”.