cover image August Blue

August Blue

Deborah Levy. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (208p) ISBN 978-0-374-60204-8

Levy follows up The Man Who Saw Everything with another magnificent experiment in surrealism, this time with the story of a 34-year-old Londoner who encounters her double. Elsa Anderson, a famous pianist whose star is on the wane after a disastrous Rachmaninov performance, is sight-seeing in Athens when she notices a woman wearing a green raincoat that’s similar to hers. Later, while Elsa is with a piano student, the double’s voice emerges in Elsa’s thoughts, claiming that Elsa is running away from her life. Elsa was orphaned by her mother as a newborn and adopted at five by an influential music teacher. All her life, Elsa has put off reading the adoption papers, preferring instead to channel the mysteries and sadness of her origins into her playing. Levy slowly and skillfully teases out the implications of Elsa’s disconnection from herself, which become apparent in a series of striking scenes. While waiting in a London station for a train to Paris, Elsa is surprised to be recognized by a fan, a woman who was “convinced she knew who I was, but I did not know who I was.” In Paris and beyond, the voice of Elsa’s double continues to return. Levy’s sensual descriptions make the conceit come to life (“Her voice inside me. Like a handful of small stones thrown at a window”), and when the two women finally meet, their exchange leads Elsa to a most illuminating revelation. This is a stunner. (June)