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The Cost of Living: A Working Autobiography

(Living Autobiography #2)

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  4,685 ratings  ·  538 reviews
A searching examination of all the dimensions of love, marriage, mourning, and kinship from two-time Booker Prize finalist Deborah Levy.

To strip the wallpaper off the fairy tale of The Family House in which the comfort and happiness of men and children has been the priority is to find behind it an unthanked, unloved, neglected, exhausted woman.

The Cost of Living explores t
Hardcover, 144 pages
Published July 10th 2018 by Bloomsbury Publishing (first published April 5th 2018)
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Average rating 4.17  · 
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Adam Dalva
Dec 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Even stronger than the excellent Things I Don't Want to Know, Levy is firing on all cylinders in this short memoir segment, which details a year of change after a divorce, and examines instances of erasure of women in modern society. The scenes are memorable, poignant, and often hilarious (a run over chicken from a grocery store in a road; leaves in her hair during a pitch; birds sipping water on a porch.)

"To separate from love is to live a risk-free life. What's the point of that sort of life?
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I didn't realize this was part of an autobiographical project Deborah Levy had already started (the first being Things I Don't Want to Know) she calls "working autobiography," but after enjoying this one so much, I will definitely go back and read the others, past and future.

I can't quote from my copy because it is an advanced readers copy, but that would take forever as I believe I highlighted half of it. It's about reinventing herself at 50, of leaving a marriage that wasn't working, of formin
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, 2019
A meditation on marriage, death, and writing, The Cost of Living explores what it means to find a new sense of purpose at midlife. The memoir’s made up of fourteen short personal essays that bring together literary analysis, social criticism, and autobiography. Read in sequence, the essays chart Levy’s attempt to build a new life for herself and her children after she separated from her longtime husband at fifty; as the author vividly recounts her journey, she surveys what writers like Marguerit ...more
Deborah Levy is a woman for our times. She is up to her neck in this moment, stewing like a teabag. One can imagine calming a stressed constituent by sitting her down and handing her a cup…a copy of Levy’s slim new book, a working autobiography, a quiet, private, assessing look at a life which tries to keep the love from leaking out.
“Femininity, as a cultural personality, was no longer expressive for me. It was obvious that femininity, as written by men and performed by women, was the exhausted
Dannii Elle
Towards the end of last year I picked up a collection of essays by Deborah Levy, entitled Things I Don't Want to Know. These essays were written as a feminist response to George Orwell's Why I Write, which I was reading at the time. I adored Orwell's writing but there was something about Levy's essay-formed responses that sparked something inside of me. When I saw her next volume of essays were due to be published, shortly after this, I knew I had to read them too, and was instantly sure I was g ...more
Eric Anderson
May 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Deborah Levy has a unique style of writing which references a disparate range of influences and layers in a lot of symbolism in order to tease out some of the most essential questions about life. I admired the way her novel “Hot Milk” looks at what happens when familial roles are reversed or become more fluid. So it's absolutely fascinating reading “The Cost of Living” which is part of what's been branded Levy's “living autobiography” and follows the time period in which she wrote “Hot Milk”. Sh ...more
Apr 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“All writing is about looking and listening and paying attention to the world,” writes Deborah Levy (and where has she been all my life?) She’s an exquisite writer who crafts her words lyrically and with great insight.

Here, in this slim and sensual working autobiography, she becomes her own key character, leaving her marriage of two decades (“To become a person someone else had imagined for us is not freedom—it is to mortgage our life to someone else’s fear) with her two daughters. Vivid scenes
Michael Livingston
Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A short but brilliant memoir about life in the aftermath of Levy's divorce - the challenges and opportunities of rebuilding a life at 50. The writing is spectacular - funny, insightful and rich.
Nov 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There are some writers, if I haven’t read them for a while, I start to get an itch to read them, and it’s all about the voice. I’m not really bothered what the very best writers want to talk about - especially essayists - as it’s just about getting to spend time in that person’s head and share their sensibility.
Sep 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Levy is one of my favorite contemporary writers, and with my finishing this, she is now tied with English playwright Mike Bartlett for my 'Most Read Author' (with 13 entries each). This is both a continuation and further development in her 'living autobiography' series, and just as potent, startling and illuminating as part one, 'Things I Don't Want to Know', which mined her early life, whereas this concerns mainly the past three or four years. They are both quick reads, but worth slowing down f ...more
For me, this was the right book at the right time. Reading memoirs and finding something universal in someone's personal experience has felt like a great comfort recently. Even though Deborah Levy's individual situation in isn't one I can specifically relate to (never gotten divorced, don't have kids), her seeking to carve out a new space for herself in the world and grappling with the overwhelming question of what shape this space might take, what her own version of living might look like, felt ...more
Roman Clodia
Jan 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A collection of short, thoughtful pieces from Levy that range from her separation from her husband to a meeting about filming her 'Swimming Home'. Anyone who has read Levy will not be surprised by her attention to the constrictions and constructions of gender ('This is what I resented most, that my mind had been abducted and was full of Him. It was nothing less than an occupation'). Knowing little about her other than a couple of her novels, I was interested to see that we share some literary he ...more
Jaclyn Crupi
May 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well that was glorious.
aayushi girdhar
Mar 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uk
'One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.'
- Simone de Beauvoir

levy was 50 when her life fell apart. with the end of her twenty year marriage, and the death of her mother, here she is trying to find her ground in the chaos through grief and transition, through the slow progress up a hill, the crashing of a boat, and deconstruction of an old, stable house. she calls this series her 'living autobiography' she wrote it while living in her friend's shed. there is a distinct open ended quality in
Camelia Rose
Dec 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays, motherhood, audio
The Cost of Living is a personal essay collection. After having divorced at age of 50, Deborah Levy sets up as a single parent in a London flat, finding time and space to write, meanwhile grieving for the death of her mother. This collection is about motherhood, feminism, and intellectual life.

The author compares herself with Simone de Beauvoir:

To live without love is a waste of time. I was living in the republic of writing and children. I was not Simone de Beauvoir after all. No, I had got off
Jan 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
This is the second part of Levy’s "living autobiography". The first part is Things I Don't Want to Know which consisted of 4 short essays/memoirs relating events from different times in Levy’s life in response to the four motivations for writing identified by Orwell in his essay "Why I Write". This second part is a non-fiction novel that takes us through a turbulent period in Levy’s life (the break up of her marriage and the death of her mother which occurred within about a year of one another). ...more
Apr 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
the thing with deborah levy is that she is an original thinker and a beautiful writer, so, really, she could write a whole book about persimmons and i'd read her.

this is beautiful. it's a loose memoir about being a woman writer in a patriarchal world and also a mother and a physical being with physical needs. in reflecting on all these things levy pulls in a ton of authors that will make you feel like why on earth haven't you read them while at the same time making you aware that you will never
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
This short memoir looks at two particularly trying times in her life - her divorce and the death of her mother shortly thereafter. She also examines women’s roles in society and questions why women so easily forgo their own ambitions, comfort, and safety for the sake of maintaining a home for a spouse and children. Very meditative and insightful.
Deborah Levy copes with a loss (well, two, actually), writes in her friend's cold shed, feeds her dying mom ice-lollies and rides an electric bike, all with a resounding, bewitching self-conscience. You go girl. Woman. Go, go, we're rooting for you.
Beth Bonini
”To strip the wallpaper off the fairy tale of The Family House in which the comfort and the happiness of men and children have been the priority is to find behind it an unthanked, unloved, neglected, exhausted woman. It requires skill, time, dedication and empathy to create a home that everyone enjoys and that functions well. Above all else, it is an act of immense generosity to be the arthcitect of everyone else’s well-being.”

“To not feel at home in her family is the beginning of of the bigger
Pranjal Joshi
Oct 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“What is a woman for?”
“What should a woman be?”

Deborah Levy is the veritable Sylvia Plath of prose-A modern day Medusa who returns the ‘male gaze’ with her lacerating penwomanship…..
“It was not that easy to convey to him….that the world was her world too.”

Levy’s working autobiography is her means of catharsis for surviving the tempest of her collapsing marriage and coping with the death of her mother. The book maps her creative endeavor to break free from the habit of being unhappy. Writing in h
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There’s something about Deborah Levy’s writing that draws me in instantly. I especially like the way she is able to take profound concepts and stuff them economically in a short sentence. Take her latest novel, Hot Milk, within it’s brief 200 pages, the reader is presented with symbols alluding to relationships and personal freedom, be it the appearance of jellyfish or milk. A Levy book is readable but it pays to take your time and figure the significance of certain animals or events that occur ...more
Hasti Khodakarami
Dec 08, 2019 rated it liked it
As a divorced Iranian woman I find this book a compilation of day to day nagging of a women who thinks her choice of not clinging to her marriage and her financial independence as huge miseries both to nag about and to be proud of. To me, however, what she defines as hardship, sounds more like great achievements of western societies in favor of women. I fought, cried, screamed and struggled to get a divorce for almost three years! Simply because I live in a country in which the right to ask for ...more
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 rounded up

I didn't think it was possible that I'd enjoy this more than Things I Don't Want to Know but I'm glad that I did! I can't quite put my finger on what exactly appeals to me so much about this "living autobiography" Levy is writing - I mean, her writing is brilliant, but there's more to it than that. Her observations are thought-provoking, and I enjoyed reading about her ~journey~ rebuilding her life after her marriage ends. I just wish these books were at least double the length the
Sep 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I want to be immersed into her sentences forever
Cátia Vieira
Dec 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Why should you read this book?
The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy follows the acclaimed Things I Don’t Want to Know (read this review here). I loved the first installment which left me with my expectations very high for this one! I was not disappointed. The Cost of Living is just as fantastic.

This one, as the previous book, is a ‘living autobiography’ that revolves around Levy’s ideas on womanhood, motherhood and writing. If you love literary biographies, then this will make the perfect read.

Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I ended the new year with one heck of a book.
My last read of 2018 was beyond amazing. It continues to have such an impact on me that I feel like I need to reread it at least a couple of times this year. A nonfiction memoir, I read this at just the right time; it was calling me from my TBR pile and wasn't a planned read at all.
It is about what it is to be alive. Levy writes SO well, with razor sharp insights. I have tabbed ample pages. I remember reading this at my sister's and after
Chaos is supposed to be what we most fear but I have come to believe it might be what we most want. If we don’t believe in the future we are planning, the house we are mortgaged to, the person who sleeps by our side, it is possible that a tempest (long lurking in the clouds) might bring us closer to how we want to be in the world.

Life falls apart. We try to get a grip and hold it together. And then we realise we don’t want to hold it together.

Deborah Levy's working autobiography is structure
Oct 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
the only reason i finished the audiobook is because i slept through it on the bus
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Deborah Levy trained at Dartington College of Arts leaving in 1981 to write a number of plays, highly acclaimed for their "intellectual rigour, poetic fantasy and visual imagination", including PAX, HERESIES for the Royal Shakespeare Company, CLAM, CALL BLUE JANE, SHINY NYLON, HONEY BABY MIDDLE ENGLAND, PUSHING THE PRINCE INTO DENMARK and MACBETH-FALSE MEMORIES, some of which are published in LEVY ...more

Other books in the series

Living Autobiography (2 books)
  • Things I Don't Want to Know

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