Although it’s short, this is not a quick and easy read – well, duh, it’s a Booker nomination so what did I expect? In fact, it’s starts out dense enough I may have to reread. Ah well … such are the joys. Actually, it gets much easier after about 70 pages and the characters are all straight – a few too many, too soon, imo. A story of poetry and madness I suppose.
“Every morning in every family, men, women and children, if they have nothing better to do, tell each other their dreams. We are all at the mercy of the dream and we owe it to ourselves to submit its power to the waking state.”
Set-up – It’s July, 1994 at some point, then it’s a Saturday. and two middle-aged English couples and the 14-year old daughter of one couple are vacationing at an upscale tourist villa in southern France. Party-crashing, in comes Kitty Finch who apparently knows Joe Jacobs, a poet of some renown, one member of the 4-some. (A kind of Prologue chapter has to do with Joe and Kitty – very confusing.) The other characters include Isabel, a foreign correspondent and Joe’s wife, along with Nina, their daughter. The other couple is comprised of Mitchell and Laura , shop owners in London and friends with Isabel in particular. Peripherally we have Jungen, a friend of Kitty’s and a caretaker at the resort, Claude, an aging hippie and manager of the resort store, Madame Sheridan who almost resides at the villa.
Kitty, a regular visitor at the resort, is apparently not too well balanced. Her name could be significant as cats eat birds – is she self-destructive and bent on taking whomever is with her along? Sometimes she’s called Kitty Ket (by Jungen).
Laura and Mitchell provide a whole ‘nother situation as does Jungen and Nina has her own issues – it’s a hotel-type scenario and there’s a fair amount of suspense wondering what all the symbolism and strange characters (who get stranger) are going to wind up.
The book is very heavily laden with allusion and symbolism – I’m not sure I’m all that fond of this level of puzzle-making although it can be interesting – see The Lighthouse by Alison Moore – another nominee from 2012. Dreams are obviously important (Epigraph) and they come up, also the frequent use of color words seems to imply something – red predominates but green, blue and black are also important. The theme of the impact or sense of poetry is important.
Deborah Levy is a South African-born playwright now living in London.