A New York Times Notable Book of 2018
Longlisted for the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction
From the twice-Booker-shortlisted author comes a witty and audacious examination of writing and womanhood
"Life falls apart. We try to get a grip. We try to hold it together. And then we realize that we don't want to hold it together."
Crystalline, witty and audacious, The Cost of Living addresses itself to the dual experiences of writing and of womanhood, examining what is essential in each. Following the acclaimed Things I Don't Want to Know, which reflected deeply on the nature of gender politics and a life in letters, The Cost of Living returns to the same subject and to the same life, to find a writer in radical flux. If a woman dismantles her life, expands it and puts it back together in a new shape, how might she describe this new composition? "Words have to open the mind. When words close the mind you can be sure that someone has been reduced to nothingness."
In this elegiac second instalment of her "living autobiography", Deborah Levy considers what it means to live with value and meaning and pleasure. The Cost of Living is a vital and astonishing testimony, as distinctive, wide-ranging and original as Levy's acclaimed novels.
This slim, singular memoir by British playwright and poet Levy (Hot Milk) chronicles a brief period following the "shipwreck" of the London writer's 20-year marriage. Levy, a Booker Prize finalist, moved from a large Victorian home to an apartment with her two young adult daughters, accepted an offer from an octogenarian friend of a small shed in which to write, and began to rebuild her life. In the process, she explores the role she has played in the past: that of the nurturing "architect" of family life. Now she hopes to reinvent herself as an independent woman who not only provides for her children, but who enjoys a new physical (e.g., she whizzes about on an electric bike) and creative energy in "the most professionally busy time" in her life. She is occasionally drawn back to her former life; memories make her long for the past (a sprig of rosemary, for example, makes her think of a garden she once planted in the family house), but don't prevent her from moving forward. Levy describes writing as "looking, listening, and paying attention," and she accomplishes these with apparent ease. Her descriptions of the people she meets, the conversations she overhears, and the nuances she perceives in relationships are keen and moving (about a man she has just met, "I objected to my male walking companion never remembering the names of women"). This timely look at how women are viewed (and often dismissed) by society will resonate with many readers, but particularly with those who have felt marginalized or undervalued.