A new novel from the Booker Prize finalist Deborah Levy, the celebrated author of The Man Who Saw Everything and The Cost of Living.
At the height of her career, the piano virtuoso Elsa M. Anderson—former child prodigy, now in her thirties—walks off the stage in Vienna, midperformance.
Now she is in Athens, watching an uncannily familiar woman purchase a pair of mechanical dancing horses at a flea market. Elsa wants the horses too, but there are no more for sale. She drifts to the ferry port, on the run from her talent and her history.
So begins her journey across Europe, shadowed by the elusive woman who seems to be her double. A dazzling portrait of melancholy and metamorphosis, Deborah Levy’s August Blue uncovers the ways in which we attempt to revise our oldest stories and make ourselves anew.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Poet, playwright, and novelist Deborah Levy leans into the full range of her talents in this lyrical portrait of a woman struggling to find—and maintain—her fragile identity. When Elsa, a famed concert pianist, suffers a very public anxiety attack, both her career and her few intimate relationships go off the rails. Set adrift during the COVID pandemic, Elsa travels across Europe, teaching piano to children of wealthy digital nomads and tracking the movements of a mysterious doppelgänger who reappears whenever Elsa feels especially unmoored. August Blue is an enigmatic and powerful meditation on loss, family, and what it means to be an artist in a time of chaos.
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.