Real Estate by Deborah Levy (Penguin), £8.99.
Real Estate is Deborah Levy’s final instalment of her three-part “living autobiography”. In After Things I Don’t Want to Know (2014) she cast Orwellian reflections on writing and in The Cost of Living (2018) she addressed the end of her marriage. In Real Estate Levy considers home ownership, using “property and possessions” as metaphors to ruminate on themes of patriarchy, empowerment and emancipation.
In the book, Levy is embarking on a new chapter. She is on the cusp of turning sixty, her marriage is well-and-truly over, and her youngest daughter is about to set off for university. Now that she has an empty nest, Levy tries to make sense of her independence and leaves her flat in North London to travel to New York, India, Paris, Berlin and Greece.
An enduring theme throughout the book is Levy’s use of quotes and extracts from other female artists, writers and musicians to inspire her own understanding of property and possession. She recalls the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe when picking up a banana tree, cites Leonora Carrington when discussing ageing and envies Rebecca West’s literary wealth. Although, humorously, she does admit to snubbing Simone de Beauvoir’s thoughts on domesticity by visiting her local Monoprix in Paris to stock up on plates and cutlery.
A memorable anecdote comes from Levy’s love for hosting women (and women only), which then transpires into an idea of setting up a fictional café called Girls & Women, where everyone from Elizabeth Hardwick to Louisa May Alcott can enjoy her entrée of “vodka and cigarettes”.
As ever with Levy, her prose is witty, subtle and razor-sharp. She is exceptionally skilled in taking the supposedly mundane – from describing guava ice cream to sage green shoes – and turning it into a song sheet of lyrical charm. Real Estate is a memoir-meditation that is a perfect curtain-call for a triptych that is a dazzling and wise portrait of modern-day womanhood.
See/Saw: Looking at Photographs by Geoff Dyer (Canongate), £25.
“I became interested in photography not by taking or looking at photographs but by reading about them,” writes Geoff Dyer in the closing essay of his book See/Saw: Looking at Photographs. This gateway to photography is one the writer is determined to keep open through this collection of essays analysing the photographs of Andy Warhol, Vivian Maier, Thomas Ruff and Lynn Saville, amongst others.
Some photographs warrant longer essays than others within the book, but all are written to appeal to both the photography aficionado and the amateur. Immense research, attention to detail and stylish prose combine with a sense of accessibility through Dyer’s enthusiasm for the subject. The context, history and analysis of each photograph is paired with the musings on visual culture from writers such as Emily Dickinson, Henry James and Martin Amis. The book spurs envy for Dyer’s mental encyclopedia of artistic and cultural reference.
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The book subtly addresses the much-debated question of “is there such thing as originality in art?” by framing each photographer through their contemporary and historical influences. Dyer creates a chain of creativity that tracks the evolution of our appreciation of photography today. See/Saw is an intelligent and enthusiastic gateway to perceiving life through a lens.
The Curious Rise of Alex Lazarus by Adam Leigh (Whitefox Publishing), £8.99.
Adam Leigh’s debut novel, The Curious Rise of Alex Lazarus, opens with a topical scene; an overzealous entrepreneur who has strayed from the letter of the law in his desire to achieve greatness and is now waiting to be “skewered” by a feisty committee of cross-party MPs. The chairman clears his throat and asks: “So, Mr Lazarus. Please can we start by you explaining why you are in breach of European Cookie Law?” – prompting a humorous narrative of the protagonist’s curious rise and spectacular fall as he strives to build the next “unicorn” startup.
Alex, a restless advertising executive, meets charming lawyer Julian Lloyd-Mason by chance. The unlikely pair hatch a plan and throw caution to the wind – quitting their day jobs to launch a parenting website. Alex is overpowered by ambition, pushing away both his family and ignoring his doubts about Julian’s integrity. But when Primaparent.com goes global, Alex realises all too late that wanting more can sometimes get you less.
The novel is written in the form of a fictional business memoir and offers a readable insight into the intricacies of starting a business from scratch. Leigh details the challenges of balancing fragile co-founders and investors egos with the tricky ethical questions that come with mass consumer technology. Alex’s struggle to reconcile his capitalist ambition with the disapproval of his socialist father also adds a humorous critique of startup culture. An entertaining first novel, The Curious Rise of Alex Lazarus, will make you think twice about what you’re willing to sacrifice to achieve your goals.