cover image Things I Don’t Want to Know: On Writing

Things I Don’t Want to Know: On Writing

Deborah Levy. Bloomsbury, $22 (128p) ISBN 978-1-62040-565-9

Author of the Man Booker Prize shortlisted Swimming Home offers a slim, nuanced autobiography that addresses Orwell’s timeless question of “Why I Write” from a woman’s perspective. Levy begins with a trip to Majorca on which she mysteriously packs one of her old notebooks, labeled “POLAND 1988”, not knowing why she has brought it with her. The incident prompts Levy to recall how she used Polish menus from the notebook in her acclaimed novel, “in which the cabin crew on LOT airlines had morphed into nurses from Odessa.” The memoir’s project becomes evident in Levy’s precise methods of showing how unrelated incidents from her life and experience become fodder, through the subconscious mind’s unknowable alchemy, for her fiction. The precise, visceral scenes soon give way to a more philosophical tone as Levy sets about to deconstruct and analyze what it means to be a woman writer, quoting such luminaries as Adrienne Rich and Marguerite Duras. Her South African childhood, her father’s abduction, and the family’s later expatriation to England form the remainder of the slender memoir’s narrative, and she continues to link lived experience to her development and process as a writer. Particularly fond of greasy spoon restaurants in England, she begins to write as a teenager inside their “steamed up windows and haze of cigarette smoke,” a “sense of urgency accelerated.” At these junctures, in which Levy explores the consciousness and central questions of a writer (“I was convinced there was another sort of life waiting for me”), this dreamlike book of ideas and memories displays its greatest strengths. (June)