August Blue by Deborah Levy - review by Nicholas Harris

Nicholas Harris

Art of the Fugue

August Blue


Hamish Hamilton 256pp £18.99

For a novelist, Deborah Levy seems to have narrow regard for the effects and scope of the novel. Forget narrative thrill, forget vivid characterisation and certainly forget linguistic verve. Levy is selling a very different vehicle. Her work instead has the feel of more avant-garde art forms (conceptual portraiture and music, and arthouse cinema), the aesthetics of which she evokes in glacial and epigrammatic prose. Her tools are recurring colours, totemic objects and enigmatic dialogue; plot is exchanged for suggestive yet unconsummated motifs. Spare, sculpted, fleetingly beautiful, in its ultimate weightlessness August Blue is a cautionary example of this style’s limitations.

The novel opens in a flea market in Athens, as our narrator, Elsa M Anderson, watches another woman buying two mechanical dancing horses. In her clothes, age and interest in the horses, which Elsa had also wanted, this woman seems to Elsa to be a double, or even a doppelgänger. And while the woman takes the horses which Elsa feels belong to her, she leaves behind a black trilby hat – one of the everyday items which in Levy’s world assume surreal power by virtue of having their colour described – which Elsa picks up and wears.

This intriguing opening suggests that what follows will be some kind of a thriller of identity and emotion, but from this point the novel only drifts and refuses to move. Elsa, we learn, is a classical pianist of some renown, but, after fleeing the stage of Vienna’s Golden

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