Real Estate by Deborah Levy review – a dialogue between art and life

The third of Levy’s memoirs, which sees her leaving home for a fellowship in Paris, is a drily funny contemplation of what it means to be a female writer

Deborah Levy’s trilogy of what she calls “living autobiography” – Things I Don’t Want To Know, The Cost of Living and, now, Real Estate – has been an extended experiment with the form. These first-person narratives, “using an I that is close to myself and yet is not myself”, are at once memoir, cultural analysis and self-interrogation, attempts to keep past and present simultaneously in view as she pursues the question of how a woman – specifically a woman artist – should live in the second act of her life.

In Real Estate, as in The Cost of Living, Levy is preoccupied with the meaning of home, that “gendered” space that has so long been regarded as the domain of women. What does it cost a woman to make a home or to unmake one? The Cost of Living examined the author’s decision, in her 50s, to leave her marriage of 23 years and the family home that grounded it, and create a different kind of home, in a “crumbling apartment block” with her teenage daughters. In the chaos of this all-female household, she found creative liberation: “My 50s had been a time of change and turbulence, energetic and exciting. A time of self-respect and perhaps a sort of homecoming.”

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