Book Review: Swimming Home by Deborah Levy

Swimming Home by Deborah LevyThis book was short-listed for the Man Booker prize. I don’t search out books that are on shortlists, but I came across this short book at Netgalley. It seemed interesting. And it was. Quite a literary book, as you may expect from a Booker nominee, worth a read.

Swimming Home: What it is about

From the publishers: “As he arrives with his family at the villa in the hills above Nice, Joe sees a body in the swimming pool. But the girl is very much alive. She is Kitty Finch: a self-proclaimed botanist with green-painted fingernails, walking naked out of the water and into the heart of their holiday. Why is she there? What does she want from them all? And why does Joe’s enigmatic wife allow her to remain?
A subversively brilliant study of love, Swimming Home reveals how the most devastating secrets are the ones we keep from ourselves.”

Swimming Home: What I thought

Joe is a well-known poet who spends a holiday with his wife and daughter, and another couple, at a villa in France. Then a young woman shows up and is given the spare room. Kitty Finch is a fan of Joe and writes poetry herself. She’s also mentally unstable. Soon, it becomes clear that this combination of characters will lead to an explosive ending of the novel.

The short novel exudes a holiday atmosphere, languid summer days in which not much happens. While this is pleasant to read, it also means the story is a little slow. A lot of what happens is in the minds of the characters.

The build-up was really well done. From the start it was clear that crazy Kitty will lead to trouble, but what actually happens in the end is unexpected.

I thought Kitty’s madness was a bit overdone. I can’t imagine people accepting her around them as she was. In fact, neighbour Madeline seemed to be the only one who cared. Also, daughter Nina seemed much younger than her 14 years; at first I thought she was about 8, the way she was treated by her parents. Otherwise, the characters were nicely flawed, as you might expect in real life, and they were convincing.

The novel includes themes as depression, finding one’s identity, finding what is one’s home, relationships. It’s only for people who value a literary novels and don’t mind a slow story line.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 176

First published: 2011 (UK, this USA edition 2012, Bloomsbury)

I got this book: for review from the publishers via Netgally

Genre: contemporary fiction


Have you read this book?

What did you think?


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

32 Responses to Book Review: Swimming Home by Deborah Levy

  1. You convinced me, again, Judith! 🙂

  2. I agree that it was those who like slow, literary reads – I certainly thought it was very good and very atmospheric.

  3. Trisha says:

    Sounds a bit frustrating as there aren’t many people who care (notice?) the madness, but it definitely sounds atmospheric too, so I may have to give it a go.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Trisha, if you ignore the fact that this crazy woman was allowed to run around the place, then it was a good read. It created a wonderful summer-in-France atmosphere in my head! 🙂

  4. I didn’t find this particularly slow. I mean, it’s not a romp but I was always compelled to keep reading. I thought it beautiful and clever and so multi-layered. I am a sucker for ambiguity!

  5. debbierodgers says:

    This has been on my list since it was nominated for the Booker Prize. It sounds like something I’d enjoy.

  6. Stephanie says:

    Great review, Judith! After reading this post, I’m on the fence about this novel. I like slow, literary reads, and the themes and characters sound fascinating. On the other hand, I don’t enjoy portrayals of mental illness that are overblown. You’ve definitely piqued my curiosity.

  7. JoV says:

    What a coincidence Judith. I am half way through the book now and I think the same, why would anyone keep a mentally deranged girl at close proximity? I savour every word and I didn’t find it slow but I like the way Levy writes. She always close the chapter with sentence that stops you at your track. I can’t wait to see what happens at the end!

    • Leeswammes says:

      I probably would have predicted that you like this, Jo. Glad you do. I actually found the chapter endings a bit odd. As if there was more to come, but didn’t. I read this on my e-reader and sometimes wondered if there was something wrong with it, as the chapters seemed to finish rather suddenly sometimes.

      Funny how we readers all have our different way of looking at a book!

      • JoV says:

        I agree with you Judith. The short chapters finished quite abruptly. I read it on my book, it’s the same. There is nothing wrong with your ebook! I finished it today and I have a few unanswered questions.
        Spoilers warning!
        I more or less suss out all the cliffhanging questions but I don’t understand why Isabel (the wife) has a different maiden name and what is the implication of it? Of course we will never know what happens in the car before Joe (Josef) decided to take that drastic decision.

        At the end I just felt sorry for Nina, the daughter. All in all, quite a unsettling read. A book that can make me think about it after is always a good book. I thought The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan is just as good. Reviews for both out soon!

  8. Marie says:

    This sounds really good and I expected it to win the Booker (based on reviews only – I haven’t read any of the shortlist!). I might buy it for my Mum for Christmas and sneakily borrow it from her afterwards 😉

    • Leeswammes says:

      Marie, I think the book wasn’t amiss in the Booker shortlist. It was certainly a good read.

      And yes, that’s the way to do it: gift someone a book and then borrow it! 🙂

  9. Mystica says:

    You have me very very interested in this one.

  10. Isi says:

    I also like slow stories, but not everytime: sometimes you need speed and action, and other times you need peace and quiet in the books.
    The book looks interesting: I knew neither the title nor the author. I like to discover what people of all over the world is reading 🙂

  11. Joanna says:

    I have been reading about this book everywhere and I keep forgetting it was a Booker prize nominee so no wonder it has such publicity. That seems to be a good way to get lots of attention, must aim for that. I haven’t read it and I am wondering now if I should. I liked your review, thank you.

  12. Charlie says:

    I like that you included the basic themes at the end, it helps to give an idea about why the family agreed to her staying (because in real life that would be a bit weird, surely). The fact that Kitty is a fan of Joe gives a good picture of why this might be a good book too, though the slow story is surprising. Nevertheless, glad you enjoyed it. Really good review, Judith!

  13. It sounds as though you enjoyed this more than I did. I lost interest in the story so many times – it was all too simple for me. Glad you liked it. 🙂

  14. Pingback: Swimming Home by Deborah Levy « JoV's Book Pyramid

  15. markbooks says:

    Hi, I wasn’t much of a fan of this book, to be honest. I read the And Other Stories version, and I must say I preferred a couple of other things they issued this year (notably ‘Happiness Is Possible’) – but it was this that grabbed all the headlines. Certainly interesting, just not really my cup of tea.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Pity you didn’t like it so much, Mark. Yes, it did take the headlines, being a Booker nominee. Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll have a look at Happiness is Possible.

  16. Pingback: Book Review - SWIMMING HOME by Deborah Levy - Booklover Book Reviews

  17. Pingback: 3.5 Star Review, SWIMMING HOME by Deborah Levy | Booklover Book Reviews

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