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Living Autobiography #2

The Cost of Living: A Working Autobiography

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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 the subtle erasure of women's names, spaces, and stories in the modern everyday. In this “living autobiography” infused with warmth and humor, Deborah Levy critiques the roles that society assigns to us, and reflects on the politics of breaking with the usual gendered rituals. What does it cost a woman to unsettle old boundaries and collapse the social hierarchies that make her a minor character in a world not arranged to her advantage?

Levy draws on her own experience of attempting to live with pleasure, value, and meaning--the making of a new kind of family home, the challenges of her mother's death--and those of women she meets in everyday life, from a young female traveler reading in a bar who suppresses her own words while she deflects an older man's advances, to a particularly brilliant student, to a kindly and ruthless octogenarian bookseller who offers the author a place to write at a difficult time in her life. The Cost of Living is urgent, essential reading, a crystalline manifesto for turbulent times.

144 pages, Hardcover

First published April 5, 2018

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About the author

Deborah Levy

50 books2,379 followers
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: PLAYS 1 (Methuen)

Deborah wrote and published her first novel BEAUTIFUL MUTANTS (Vintage), when she was 27 years old. The experience of not having to give her words to a director, actors and designer to interpret, was so exhilarating, she wrote a few more. These include, SWALLOWING GEOGRAPHY, THE UNLOVED (Vintage) and BILLY and GIRL (Bloomsbury). She has always written across a number of art forms (see Bookworks and Collaborations with visual artists) and was Fellow in Creative Arts at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1989-1991.

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Profile Image for Ilse (away until November).
475 reviews3,132 followers
November 8, 2021
Freedom is never free. Anyone who has struggled to be free knows how much it costs.

Even if I thought the first part of Deborah Levy’s ‘Working Autobiography’ trilogy not particularly captivating, these slim volumes in bright blue, yellow and red are so alluringly designed I feel irresistibly drawn to them, even I haven’t read any of Deborah Levy’s novels( yet). Admittedly, just serve me up one part of a trilogy and I compulsively will wolf down the other two.

The second part of the trilogy felt more balanced and more coherent in comparison to the first instalment Things I Don't Want to Know, which despite its flashes of keen observations and a haunting account of her childhood experiences in South-Africa during apartheid when her father was a political prisoner struck me mostly as disjointed and not exactly earth-shattering. In The Cost of Living Levy depicts how she is reshaping her life in her early fifties, jostling with a divorce and sequential loss of the family house (and work space), the upbringing of two teenagers, her writing and her mother’s death. There is nothing exceptional to be found among these life experiences, as they are after all not so uncommon in that phase of life, nonetheless it is heartening to read a testimony that chaos not only or necessarily implies disaster but offers a chance to change too, an affirmation that one can rebuild one’s life after it has fallen apart – and resurface.

I was thinking clearly, lucidly; the move up the hill and the new situation had freed something that had been trapped an stifled. I became physically strong at fifty, just as my bones were supposed to be losing their strength. I had energy because I had no choice but to have energy. I had to write to support my children and I had to do all the heavy lifting.

Levy has a keen eye for her own clumsiness and the more mundane aspects of life as a single mother (from one day to another one has to metamorphose into an all-rounding Jack-of-all-trades - or do we just do such to ourselves? Is it simply hubris, to expect such from ourselves?) Yes, life can be hard, earning, providing, supporting, repairing, yes, one has hardly the time to breathe, but why not laugh about it, too? At least you can mess up things elegantly, fixing bathroom pipes in a silk nightgown, unwatched. In her new shabby flat in London she sees the silver lining of her new situation, leaving the dark Victorian family house behind. Writing on the tiny balcony, wrapped in a coat, having swapped the book-lined study of the former life for a starry winter night sky, she finds out this the first time she enjoyed a British winter. The heating might be broken but there is the moon and the sky:

We were living with the sky from dawn to dusk, its silver mists and moving clouds and shape-shifting moons.

Larding her meditations with the thoughts of Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, Marguerite Duras, Kierkegaard and tutti quanti she parses her own emotions entering in conversation with the thoughts of writers and artists, for example facing her inability to feel anything at all by taking inspiration from Louise Bourgeois, trying to repair the past by art, finding comfort in Proust (Ideas comes to us as the successors to griefs, and griefs, at the moment when they change into ideas, lose some part of their power to injure the heart).

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

Particularly in the first chapters there is a sense of anger, resentment and disappointment in her reflections where she connects the falling apart of her married life to the patterns and convictions dominating patriarchal society – injustices she touches on by connecting unbalances in her personal life to the political, in the vein of the personal is political. Looking back on all the time and energy she spent creating a home and taking up the role of architect of everyone else’s well-being, she senses the ambiguity in her efforts, observing them caustically: To do so, is to buy the old patriarch story on the design for the nuclear heterosexual family , not to feel at home in her family home is the beginning of the bigger story of society and its female discontents.

As much as I can sympathize with that point of view – every mother will recognise the struggle to juggle it all; it is not so hard to relate to Levy’s situation surging up resentment and even more grief for the loss of what was once dear – connecting personal woes so strongly – suggesting the connection is almost causative – with structural societal gender inequality struck me as rather reductive. Perhaps loss and grief is an inevitable part of life, life which cannot be but imperfect, flawed, messy and never like the ideal picture one might have had in mind – for men as well as for women? Or is that too fatalistic a stance?

Recurring metaphors revolve around a boat (marriage, life), cycling (electric and uphill) and the renovation of her new home - evoking perpetual change, transience, movement, finding a balance between going with the flow and taking one’s life in hand.

Chaos is supposed to be what we most fear but I have come to believe it might be what we most want.


Contemplating the stifling silence which had crept into her marriage over the years, Levy concludes that words might cover up what matters, but as in Things I Don't Want to Know it are words, the writer’s loyal paddles, that keep the boat which tends to be ever adrift from sinking.

I am not sure Levy’s insights drawn from every-day life will linger on for long in my mind but I am anyway eager to read the third instalment of the trilogy, Real Estate, as soon as our local library makes it available.
Profile Image for Adam Dalva.
Author 8 books1,648 followers
December 22, 2019
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? As I wheeled my electric bike through the park on the way to my writing shed, my hands had turned blue from the cold. I had given up wearing gloves because I was always grappling in the dark for keys. I stopped by the fountain, only to find it had been switched off. A sign from the council read, "this fountain has been winterized."

I reckoned that is what had happened to me too.
Profile Image for Candi.
623 reviews4,719 followers
November 21, 2021
“I did not wish to restore the past. What I needed was an entirely new composition.”

Why have I waited so long to read Deborah Levy? This is one of those books, much like several others I have read lately, which will linger and resonate for months to come. I’m not stumbling on these books accidentally, of course. I am quite deliberately choosing writing that will challenge the ideas that are in the very forefront of my mind these days. Levy wrote this at a time in her life that I too find myself suddenly thrown up against – midlife. I hate to use the phrase midlife crisis, however. There is something debilitating about that choice of words that makes me feel paralyzed, unable to cope or make decisions properly. It also strikes me as a term that implies that one’s past was somehow a mistake, an error in judgment. Aren’t we supposed to continually learn from our experiences? I’d like to think of midlife as a time to reflect and reexamine; a way to decide how to move forward with this other chunk of life that looms ahead. I prefer the way Levy describes it here:

“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 realize we don’t want to hold it together.”

Levy has just gone through a divorce and is trying to forge a new life for herself and her two daughters. At the same time, she must come to terms with her mother’s imminent death from cancer. I don’t think one has to identify with her particular circumstances to benefit from reading this. I know her situation and mine are not the same, yet what I appreciated was the fact that once more I was given the opportunity to confront my choices, fears, and desires. One could look at this as a feminist piece of writing, but I believe it could apply to anyone that wants to reevaluate and move forward with the life he or she wishes to create. There are no answers, but Levy offers empowerment, through her own example, to be the orchestrator of one’s future. In her situation, she gives up a large home, her "book-lined study", and even easy transportation, opting for an electric bicycle instead. She has to work hard to achieve her goals. But that does not mean relinquishing one’s freedom.

“Freedom is never free. Anyone who has struggled to be free knows how much it costs.”

“As everything in my new home became literally smaller (except for the succulents), my life became bigger… I began to realize that what I needed was enough of the right things.”

I’m enlarging and posting that last quote on my refrigerator, as a reminder to myself and anyone else that needs convincing. Minus the succulents, of course. I can’t even keep those damn things alive. But it did make me laugh - which, by the way, is another gift of Levy’s. She has this dry sense of humor that I can totally get on board with. We’d get along just fine, the two of us.

For such a slim book, she touches on quite a few topics that thoroughly engaged me. The way in which Levy reflects on her relationship with her mother from her point of view as a child versus as a middle aged woman really caught my attention. “Did I mock the dreamer in my mother and then insult her for having no dreams?” How one handles the death of a parent is something all of us have either had to face already or will inescapably have to confront at some point. Levy’s pain was palpable.

The laughter of young people, her teen daughter and friends, brought a smile. Then a nod to this: “Their conversation was interesting, astute and hilarious. I thought they could save the world.” I also pay attention to the younger generation. I think we’d all be better off to lend an ear instead of turning away. They are the future, after all. We can learn from one another.

Then there is the desire to write, as well as the need for a space to write in. This was perhaps the most difficult hurdle in Levy’s new life. It brought to mind Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, which if you haven’t yet read, you really must. “Not having a calm place to write was the wrong thing.” The solution to this obstacle eventually resulted in this book as well as some others.

Three weeks ago I was totally enamored with Rachel Cusk. Last month I fell for Sally Rooney. And now I’m head over heels for Deborah Levy. That may seem a bit capricious, but the truth is, my heart belongs to all three right now! I think I have a whole lot more I can learn from these brilliant writers. I’m giddy with the thought of what lies ahead!

“To become the person someone else had imagined for us is not freedom – it is to mortgage our life to someone else’s fear. If we cannot at least imagine we are free, we are living a life that is wrong for us.”
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,120 followers
July 1, 2018
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 forming a new relationship with her daughters, of hitting her creative stride right as life required the most attention, of creating a new space for her writing, of redefining feminism and femininity, etc. She also talks about how the illness and death of her mother informed her two most recent novels, Hot Milk and Swimming Home. She also said it was all these events that caused her to shift into writing in the first person for the first time. Has anyone noticed this? It made my understanding of her work click in place in a way it hadn't quite.

Thanks to the publisher for providing early access to this title through NetGalley. It comes out July 10, 2018. This is one to buy for reading and rereading.
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews964 followers
April 15, 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 Marguerite Duras and Simone de Beauvoir have written about female autonomy, and she draws attention to the many ways in which men suppress women’s voices. Levy’s points are as incisive and memorable as her prose is unassuming and precise, and her reference to other writers’ works strengthens her own arguments.
Profile Image for Dolors.
541 reviews2,286 followers
November 3, 2021
I decided to start this trilogy in the middle, skipping the first volume of Levy’s memoir as an artist, mother and daughter. I guess I was interested to see what she had to say about middle age, that turning point in the life of a person that consolidates the adult you’ve grown to be or breaks the mold of the person you have been made into. Or maybe an unequal combination of both.
And what an eye-opening discovery it has been. Honest. Naked. Refreshing.
With very direct and flowing style and without trying to answer any particular question about the role of women in our socitey, Levy’s narration makes the reader wonder about many small details that we embrace as everyday normality, gradually awakening a sense of disquiet.

In a very subtle, sensitive manner, Levy made me realize that silence, but most of all, deliberate indifference; like not paying attention to what is said or being looked in the eye when speaking, causes insecurity and makes the other person feel belittled, almost invisible.

In “The Cost of Living”, Levy reflects on how society blurs, oppresses and suffocates women in ways accepted and tolerated after centuries of patriachal tradition. Men spending long hours at work are respected and admired because they provide for their families. Women doing the same are seen as selfish and irresponsible because they neglect their children and husbands.
The portrait of the woman of the 21st century that Levy draws here distills confusion. What is expected of her doesn’t fit with her suppressed feelings or expectations. And so she goes through life trying to accommodate the growing gap of discontent, letting the passing years obliterate her youthful dreams, telling herself she shouldn’t feel this way because she has everything she could wish for and should therefore feel grateful and happy.

To break free form such letargic sleep caused by years lived in self-denial requires courage and endurance. Levy had both and she chose chaos and instability over placid contentment hidden under layers and layers of resignation. She decided to step out of a loveless marriage at fifty and, with growingly absent daughters and financial difficulties, she managed to build a room of her own.

The result of Levy’s choice is this book, constructed with a dialogue between her own memories and other female intellectuals such as Marguerite Duras or Simone de Beauvoir that wonders with eloquence what is that fictional role written by men and played by women that we call “feminity”.
Anyone who has struggled to be free and to build a life of their own knows that it is just that: a constant struggle in which a cost is paid to earn that freedom for good.
A cost paid, ultimately, to live.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,439 followers
September 29, 2018
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 phantom that still haunted the early twenty-first century.”
Levy is an adult. If she hasn’t seen it all, she seen plenty enough to make judgments. While she doesn’t “have it all together,” she is confident enough to know that is not always the most salient fact in a well-lived life.

I particularly appreciated the description of riding her e-bike to an appointment with the movie people on a rainy day. She wasn’t aware she had several wet leaves caught in her hair from pushing under the apple tree by her writing shed. The movie people wanted to make a film of one of her books. She tried to convince them she had a technique to present the past alongside the present without the use of flashbacks. She'd in fact learned it from watching favorite filmmakers.

Within this short memoir Levy treats us to several examples of her no-flashback technique. Each is ingenious, and would be an excellent challenge for students of writing. She is inventive enough to have thought of several ways.

The notion of mother is a meditation topic in this memoir. Levy is a mother, divorced now, with two teenaged girls. Her own mother dies during Levy's period of mourning for her old life, pre-divorce. Thus, she is doubly bereaved.
“We do not want mothers who gaze beyond us, longing to be elsewhere. We need her to be of this world, lively, capable, entirely present to our needs.”
She recognizes motherhood is some kind of impossible condition, open to fulfilling the needs of others while reneging on what one owes oneself.
“When our father does the things he needs to do in the world, we understand it is his due. If our mother does the things she needs to do in the world, we feel she has abandoned us. It is a miracle she survives our mixed messages, written in society’s most poisoned ink. It is enough to drive her mad.”
Just so.

Born in South Africa, Levy travelled to England as a young girl. Once Levy’s mother made a return visit to SA without her; her postcard back to Levy in England sounded to my ear more like sister than mother. The years fell away. She'd visited friends who supported her during the years of political turmoil during the transition form apartheid to democracy, of which she had been an active participant. Moments like these accordion lives—is this not an example of flashback without flashback?

We read on, only to discover more and more instances of the collapse of time. Levy has indeed given us several ways to view history rather than through a distancing lens.

Perhaps my favorite moment of many which worked beautifully was a description of finding something in a store that would suit her mother--but shortly after her mother’s death. She temporarily forgot the death part and brought the item to the counter to purchase. When her mind suddenly kicked into the present from the past, she cried out Oh No No No No and ran from the store.
“At that moment, I came too close to understanding the way Hamlet speaks Shakespeare’s most sorrowful words. I mean, not just the actual words, but how he might sound when he says them.”
These moments come rarely in a lifetime. When they do, we must mark the insight.

I loved this slim volume so full of someone else. Levy is just interesting.

Postscipt: Levy mentions Nadine Gordimer in one description of her mother and I am reminded I’d never understood, or perhaps never had the patience to understand, Gordimer’s writing. She reminds me this may be a good time for me to experience her again.
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,064 reviews1,480 followers
January 13, 2021
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 going to adore them just as much.

This second volume is far more inwardly-turned than its predecessor. Much of the short anthology deals with more personal anecdotes, from the author's life, but I still found it an equally as important creation. She shares her personal history but also, alongside this, her ideas about gender construction and stereotypes in society and her negation of the expected, grief and healing and all the stages in between, and so much more than could ever conceivably seem to be packed into just over 100 pages of writing.

Her lyrical prose and ability to portray emotion in word remained of the sublime brilliance I already knew her to possess. I did not need a prior familiarity with Levy's fiction or her backstory to enjoy this, I only needed to open my heart and allow her sorrow and her fragility, but also her knowledge and her bravery, to consume me. This is an overwhelmingly powerful collection, which is almost brutal in its emotional assault. And I unreservedly adored it for that.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author, Deborah Levy, and the publisher, Penguin, for this opportunity.
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
687 reviews3,402 followers
May 1, 2018
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”. She describes the state of flux her life was in this period with the death of her mother and a separation from her longtime husband, but also the professional success she was experiencing with her novel “Swimming Home” being shortlisted for the Booker Prize and its being optioned for a film. But rather than focusing on the mechanics and reasons behind all these changes she traces an everyday account of her life moving forward: renting a small writing studio at the back of someone's garden and considering her position in life because she surmises “We either die of the past or we become an artist.” It's an emotionally arresting account that makes many pithy observations about gender, identity and the writing life.

Read my full review of The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy on LonesomeReader
Profile Image for Lisa.
991 reviews3,320 followers
November 11, 2021
Sometimes freedom comes in strange forms, like claustrophobic little apartments and e-bikes.

When you gain freedom, it comes at a cost. Well-known structures that bogged you down are gone, and so is the security you felt in the cage. Deborah Levy reflects on the daring it takes to free yourself from the nets that hold you in place. It is a modern feminist manifesto, defying the patriarchy that guilt-trips people into believing that individual happiness in women is selfish while self-sacrifice is the laudable target or even the expected status quo.

In the footsteps of Virginia Woolf, she searches for her own room - be it just a little shed somewhere - to discover the "me" underneath the family tree.

The easy-going, anecdotal style is treacherous, and even though you read the loosely connected chapters quickly enough, there are deep waters underneath, dark passages and hard times. The authors that accompany Deborah Levy on her path to independence - Camus, de Beauvoir, Duras et alii - are my friends too. I felt that she became a friend of a friend, just by comparing bookshelves and quotes!

Sometimes I thought the book was written just for me - and that is the surest sign, I guess, that it contains some timeless and universal ideas.
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,492 reviews2,736 followers
January 25, 2021
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'), but she's also nicely self-conscious about writing, thinking about both material (mothers and daughters) and modes of writing (telling the past in a present tense) that connect this postmodern form of autobiography with her fiction.

Her range of references is wide: Simone de Beauvoir, Emily Dickinson, Marguerite Dumas, Sylvia Plath, Freud, Franz Fanon. And the writing is always poised, polished, while still maintaining an air of almost spontaneity, almost like listening to your smartest, most perceptive and probing friend. One thing I noted here is how hilarious Levy can be, albeit in a dry, deadpan, self-deprecating way. But there's pain here, too, and a hard-won honesty and wisdom. If you like the writings of Rebecca Solnit and Rachel Cusk, this should be on your TBR. I'm very much looking forward to the third part of Levy's loose autobiography, Real Estate.

Worth mentioning that the audio book is read by Juliet Stephenson with empathy and emotional range.
Profile Image for Ulysse.
292 reviews120 followers
September 23, 2023

The Cost of Living is the second part of a three-volume memoir written by the British author Deborah Levy. I read the first part, Things I Don’t Want to Know, last week and loved it so much I immediately followed it up with this one. But that was last week. You see, my problem is that I have a memory like a sieve when it comes to recounting what “happens” in books. My memory for plot is useless. So here I am attempting to write a review about a memoir I read a week ago and I can’t for the life of me remember anything about it. I suppose I could insist on the fact that I’ve always attached more importance to the way books are written than to what books are about. Form over content, you know. (The Cost of Living is extremely well-written, its prose is jewel-like, precise and full of charm, yada yada...) Yet that wouldn’t be entirely true either since the books I usually love the best are the ones that move me in unexpected ways, and I don’t think I could be moved very deeply by beautiful sentences alone (although that may happen) sentences that do not describe events in some form or other. (Levy’s book is full of memorable events, if only I could remember what they were...) Or I could also say that the best readers are those whose faulty memories force them to reread books so many times they end up knowing them better in the long run. So what I should really be doing is reading The Cost of Living again and again before sharing my thoughts about it with you, but then I might never write this review because I might never have the time to reread the book, since I tend only to reread classics, meaning I’d have to wait until I’m 112 or so before The Cost of Living became a classic and by then I’d probably be afflicted with a list of infirmities as long as my arm, if I still have an arm left on my body. So here you have it: a review which is a non-review, which doesn’t say much about the book in question, written by one endowed with the opposite of memory, who writes sentences related to no events at all, and whose fear of rereading non-classics is really a fear of growing old. And yet (let us end this list on a positive note) this reviewer’s flair for good books has hardly ever let him down. The Cost of Living is more than a good book, it's an unforgettable book--if my memory serves me well.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews626 followers
September 9, 2021
“Freedom is never free. Anyone who has had their freedom knows what it costs”.

…A broken down house -after a broken down marriage—
…a mother’s death to cancer
…the awareness of being fifty…a woman, a writer, and a mother of two daughters…

… A new electric bike > (she took out a lot of her rage from her old life on this new bike)….
cycling fast…
Levy figured the crash of her marriage had already happened so any crash that happened on her bike would be minor in comparison.

…much to think about in association to moving on— moving forward- and letting go of one’s old life.

“Now that I am not married to society, I am transitioning into something else”.

I absolutely love Deborah Levy.
Brilliant beautifully written essays—
raw - real - personal - reflective and powerful!

Profile Image for Lisa (NY).
1,552 reviews605 followers
June 25, 2021
Levy shines a light on everyday events with an approachable, clear style and packs each page with insight.
Profile Image for Michael Livingston.
795 reviews252 followers
October 23, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Celeste   Corrêa .
282 reviews142 followers
August 25, 2021
À procura de um livro, reli este.
Uma escrita meditativa e emocionante que, como da primeira vez, aplaudi.

Entre a nostalgia de um casamento desfeito e dos filhos pequenos, este livro fala da dificuldade de uma mulher refazer a sua vida.
Este livro é a conquista de uma mulher: conciliar a família e o seu próprio quarto com vista depois de ter perdido o seu sentido de orientação.

«Viver sem amor é uma perda de tempo. Eu vivia agora na República da Escrita e das Filhas. Não era Simone de Beauvoir nenhuma, afinal de contas. Não, tinha deixado o comboio numa paragem diferente (o casamento) e subido para uma plataforma igualmente diferente (filhos). Ela bem podia ser a minha musa, mas eu não seria certamente a dela.»

Uma análise da viagem e do destino das mulheres: nadar, remar e pagar o preço.

«A liberdade nunca é livre. Qualquer pessoa que já tenha lutado para ser livre sabe o quanto ela custa.»

«A vida só merece ser vivida porque temos a esperança de que tudo se torne melhor e que possamos todos chegar a casa sãos e salvos.»

O destino é rumar na direção de uma vida mais livre.

Deborah Levy fala-nos sobre o feminismo , reflecte sobre a liberdade última de cada mulher escrever a sua vida e compara as obras de Beauvoir, Ferrante, Emily Dickson, David Lynch, entre outros.
Profile Image for Dea.
113 reviews344 followers
May 24, 2023
Disjointed, random, and tedious…. meaningless sentences that are supposed to be DEEP (you know the type).

I’ve tried with Deborah Levy, I truly have, but just have found nothing worthwhile in her writing.
Profile Image for Lee.
352 reviews8 followers
November 23, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
464 reviews607 followers
December 19, 2021
I want to learn how to float on my back when swimming. It always looks so serene, so easy, so freeing. I remember being on the beach with a friend in St. Petersburg, Florida. We walked around the "Pink Palace" and then we went by the beach, where I watched her float on her back on a bed of blue. She looked so otherworldly. I say this because in this memoir Deborah Levy remembers her mother "floating on her back, emptying her thoughts, and surrendering to the flow." And one could say this is the overarching idea the memoir embodies.

Levy enters a new stage of life as a divorcee. She cares for her children and contemplates motherhood as she remembers her mother who has just passed from cancer (those poignant scenes were some of my favorite). As she ponders womanhood and motherhood, she calls upon writers who have done the same: Marguerite Duras, Doris Lessing, Simone de Beauvoir. It's not too often a woman takes a bold stance and decides not to have children. Yes, world, a person may identify as female and not desire children. She may decide to partake of this world by floating on her back, by obstructing social hierarchies. Levy includes this rarely-discussed topic as a fragmented conversation when she mentions her favorite writer who made that choice. She braids in the conversation about the "disempowered middle-aged male" and "their women who lie delicately for them." She discusses aging, discusses life and love and compromise.

This reads like a series of braided essays that ponder the paths of womanhood, about what it means to live happy, to live with meaning, to embrace what makes one feel valuable in this life instead of how others perceive one's value. It is about introspective growth. I bought a Turkish coffeepot after reading this. I think I'll move through the holidays trying to brew Turkish coffee because I, too, want to "sip strong aromatic coffee from midnight to the small hours [and] bring something interesting to the page." Oh well, if you've read this memoir or plan to read it, you'll understand this random thought. I'll sip Turkish coffee and float on my back...OK maybe not at the same time, but you get the point.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,680 reviews2,668 followers
November 8, 2021
In the space of a year, Levy separated from her husband and her mother fell ill with the cancer that would kill her. Living with her daughters in a less-than-desirable London flat, she longed for a room of her own. Her octogenarian neighbor, Celia, proffered her garden shed as a writing studio, and that plus an electric bike conferred the intellectual and physical freedom she needed to reinvent her life. That is the bare bones of this sparse volume, the middle one in an autobiographical trilogy, onto which Levy grafts the tissue of experience: conversations and memories; travels and quotations that have stuck with her.

It’s hard to convey just what makes this brilliant. The scenes are everyday – set at her apartment complex, during her teaching work or on a train; the dialogue might be overheard. Yet each moment feels perfectly chosen to reveal her self, or the emotional truth of a situation, or the latent sexism of modern life. “All writing is about looking and listening and paying attention to the world,” she writes, and it’s that quality of attention that sets this apart. I’ve had mixed success with Levy’s fiction (though I loved Hot Milk), but this was flawless from first line to last. I can only hope the rest of the memoir lives up to it.

Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.
Profile Image for Doug.
2,048 reviews746 followers
September 19, 2018
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 for, since there is so much depth in her writing, one wants to linger. The only downside is that this book more or less ends in the present day, so it may be another five or six years before we get another installment. But perhaps that means she will return to fiction and write another sterling masterpiece like 'Swimming Home' or 'Hot Milk', both of which got Booker shortlisted.

PS: Oddly, this is the second book this week I've read entitled 'Cost of Living', the other being the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Martyna Majok!
Profile Image for Bart Moeyaert.
Author 100 books1,432 followers
February 10, 2021
Van de driedelige autobiografie van Deborah Levy zijn de eerste twee delen verschenen. Ik hoorde er zoveel goeds over, dat ik onlangs op de fiets ben gesprongen omdat ik ineens de drang voelde om Levy niet morgen, nee nee, onmiddellijk te gaan lezen. In de boekhandel bleek alleen het tweede deel voorhanden, dit ‘De prijs van het bestaan’, maar geen nood, de kassa deed tsjieng.

Het doet er — geloof ik — niet veel toe dat ik nu niet chronologisch aan Levy ben begonnen. Ook als ik netjes vanaf het eerste deel had kennisgemaakt en Levy als een veertigjarige vrouw zou hebben getroffen, zou ik haar stem een ontdekking hebben gevonden. Ik bedoel: het voorbije jaar lijk ik voortdurend op zoek te zijn naar de blik en de gedachten van vrouwen. Ik denk aan de trilogie van Tove Ditlevsen, die geheel anders klinkt dan Levy. Ik denk aan Benjamin Mosers biografie van Clarice Lispector dat ik (langzame, langzame lezer) bijna uit heb. Ik wil een visie lezen, stemmen horen, de chronologie is ondergeschikt.

Deborah Levy is zich heel erg bewust van het vrouwelijk perspectief. Ze kijkt als vrouw naar de man. Ze is vijftiger, nog niet lang gescheiden, en je kunt niet zeggen dat ze in een rouwproces zit. Me dunkt dat ze eerder het falen moet uitzweten dan het huwelijk zelf. In alles is voelbaar dat ze haar leven herschikt en herdenkt, en daardoor heb ik Levy eerder meedénkend — of zal ik zeggen hérdenkend, dan meevoelend gelezen. Ze helpt de lezer de dingen in een ander perspectief te zien, en dat doet ze af en toe aan de hand van beklijvende anekdotes.

In de trein naar Parijs ontmoet ze bijvoorbeeld een man die naar Parijs gaat om de schoenen van zijn vrouw op te halen. Ze heeft ze in een hotelkamer laten liggen. Je denkt: wat een daad van die man. Maar dan komt wending nummer 1: het zijn orthopedische schoenen, de benen van zijn vrouw zijn ongelijk. Gevolgd door wending nummer 2: de man heeft de schoenen zo mogelijk nog meer nodig dan zijn vrouw. Zonder die schoenen kan de man zijn vrouw in huis niet horen stappen. De man wil grip, de man wil controle, de man wil de man zijn.

Verhelderend, zoals Levy tussen de ribben port.

‘De prijs van het bestaan’ is uit het Engels vertaald door Astrid Huisman en Roos van de Wardt.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,190 reviews1,692 followers
April 23, 2018
“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 emerge – Deborah spartan writing shed that was once the refuge of poet Adrian Mitchell, her blossoming friendship with the delightful Celia, Adrian Mitchell’s octogenarian widow, her electric bicycle that enables her to shop for exotic oranges for her daughters’ breakfast, her connection with the person she refers to as “the man who cried at the funeral” and his lover.

Playful at times, poignant at others, Deborah Levy never skirts raw emotions; for example, the death of her mother. One of the most extraordinary images is her visit each day to a Turkish newsagent to purchase ice lollies, (lime, strawberry, even the dreaded orange), which give her mother pleasure, and her devastation when the shop runs out of every flavor but bubblegum, which her mother cannot consume. With this little nugget of a story, Deborah Levy speaks the world.

I loved this little memoir, filled with humanity at every turn. Certainly it has made me curious and eager to read Swimming Home and Hot Milk, novels written by Ms. Levy that are alluded to at various places. My time with her story was time extremely well spent.

Profile Image for nastya .
450 reviews290 followers
February 9, 2021
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 got off the train at a different stop (marriage) and stepped on to a different platform (children). She was my muse but I was certainly not hers.

The book is well written (well, it's Deborah Levy, after all) and often smart and observant but also a bit random and unsubstantial. It’s like reading the diary of a woman going through her divorce and encountering sexist men everywhere; buying an electric bike; musing about motherhood, the both sides of it. It was a nice and easy read but I wanted something punchier. I’ve read this book once before in 2019 and on reread it was like reading for the first time. Quite forgettable except for the awesome scene in the train.
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,082 reviews620 followers
February 24, 2022
I have to say that part two of Levy’s three-piece memoir set is a different proposition to the first part. And I mean that in a very good way. To some extent I found Things I Don’t Want to Know something if a trial to get through but this book - structured differently, with a long list of short chapters as opposed to three longer sections – really is an absolute joy. It covers the period immediately following the breakup of her marriage, which although specific dates aren’t provided occurred when she was in her fifties. Along with her two girls, she moved into a cold flat on a London hill, where the corridors were dingy and the only place she could find to write was a minuscule balcony. She’d soon adopt a friend’s shed she’d as her writing space, which she attended in all weathers and in which she managed to complete three books.

Levy has a sharp eye when it comes to assessing people, is insightful in pointing out key moments of learning in her life and possesses seemingly no ego at all. As I worked my way through her small adventures I found myself smiling a lot and laughing regularly too. But then she’d hit me with a reflection or a memory that would be poignant enough stop me in my tracks. The sections covering her mother’s illness and subsequent death being particularly impactful. The whole thing is amazingly good. Now I can’t wait to read part three.

My thanks to Penguin Books (UK) for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Lotte.
559 reviews1,116 followers
April 10, 2020
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 like a universal experience. Her straight-forward prose was comforting to read and gave me a sense of reconnecting with the world and everyday life, something that feels more important to me than ever right now.
Profile Image for Teresa.
1,492 reviews
September 15, 2019
O Custo de Vida é o segundo volume de uma trilogia auto-biográfica de que gostei bastante; no entanto, não fiquei com interesse em ler os outros. Talvez por ser uma leitura agradável mas que não diz nada de novo.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,826 reviews1,389 followers
January 22, 2022
When a woman has to find a new way of living and breaks from the societal story that has erased her name, she is expected to be viciously self-hating, crazed with suffering, tearful with remorse. These are the jewels reserved for her in the patriarchy’s crown, always there for the taking. There are plenty of tears, but it is better to walk through the black and bluish darkness than reach for those worthless jewels.

This is the second volume in Deborah Levy’s Living Autobiography series (after “Things I Don’t Want to Know” but before “Real Estate”) this was published in 2018, two years after her Booker shortlisting for “Hot Milk”.

Unlike its predecessor – which was four essays only two of which really were concurrent – this is more of a linear autobiographical tale, albeit far from a conventional one as told in a series of fourteen short essays. Nevertheless we start to get a sense of a group of characters around the writer which gives the book at times a novelistic feel.

The book is set in a difficult and pivotal period for the author – her marriage has just broken up, she has sold the family house and moved to a flat with her two teenage daughters, and her mother has recently died. This naturally leads to much reflection on the subject of women’s roles, motherhood, the patriarchy , femininity “as written by men and performed by women”

This book is also set in a year when Levy is starting to write “Hot Milk” and in discussions about a film of her previous (also Booker shortlisted) novel “Swimming Home”. In a meeting with the film executives she is asked to email a list of major and minor characters for her proposed adaption of the book – and this becomes a recurring theme as she examines the idea of major and minor characters in her and other people’s lives and also links this idea to her reflections on society.

There are also copious reflections on the physical and mental process of writing itself – with many quotes from and reflections on the lives of other (mainly female) writers which Levy uses to examine her own personal and literary development.

An excellent edition to great trilogy.

Marguerite Duras suggested in a reverie that came to her from the calm of her final house, a home she had made to please herself, that ‘writing comes like the wind’. It’s naked, it’s made of ink, it’s the thing written, and it passes like nothing else passes in life, nothing more, except life itself. The writing you are reading now is made from the cost of living

My thanks to Hamish Hamilton, Penguin for ARCs (and the other two volumes in the series) via NetGalley
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