Real Estate by Deborah Levy - review by Laurel Berger

Laurel Berger

Houses in the Air

Real Estate


Hamish Hamilton 304pp £10.99 order from our bookshop

Houses and female bodies and the interconnectedness of the two have interested Deborah Levy at least since the publication of Things I Don’t Want to Know (2013), the first book in her three-part ‘living autobiography’ series (it’s her term for personal history that is written as it is lived rather than from a retrospective distance). In Real Estate, the third and final part, they are at the fore. When it opens, in January 2018, she is almost sixty, separated from the father of her daughters and facing an empty nest. She worries that she might be dying, though she feels invigorated by the impulse purchase of a banana tree outside Shoreditch High Street station. The tree enchants her, with its ‘shivering, wide green leaves, also with the new leaves that were furled up, waiting to stretch out into the world’. The banana tree seller’s fake eyelashes prompt a mental side trip to the painter Georgia O’Keeffe’s last house in America, and thence to a hotel where Levy once saw a fireplace shaped like an ostrich egg and conceived a strong desire for a stately pleasure dome in a warm climate. All she needed to possess it was money; failing that, she had to imagine it. ‘In this sense,’ she writes, ‘I owned some unreal estate.’

If the peripatetic account that follows were only about a writer’s attempt to create a more capacious life, we wouldn’t tramp after Levy on bus and train back to her crumbling apartment block on a hill. We wouldn’t follow her to New York, Mumbai, Paris, Berlin and Greece as she

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