The Cost of Living: A Working Authobiography by Deborah Levy


Above all else, it is an act of immense generosity to be the architect of everyone else’s well-being.

The task is still mostly perceived as women’s work.

There is a lot to chew on in this short ‘Working Autobiography’ by Deborah Levy. Thinking about the pressing weight of not just the roles women are forced to play but of the love we carry and let alter us, sometimes reducing, sometimes expanding isn’t an easy bone to chew on. Levy is leaving her marriage, a common enough occurrence in our modern times, but no less than death of the familiar. She must become someone separate from who she was.  It is hours of intimacy with powerful thoughts and feelings. Sharing the story about a woman whose husband never looks at her, Levy is able to imagine the many things it can mean but be sure, it is one of the most awful cruelties a woman can suffer, especially since it doesn’t appear as violent as it feels. How do myths play a part in the structure of a woman’s life? Even at our strongest, we cave.

There are those who will cut a woman down at the knees, to keep her from rising too high, from ‘eclipsing’ men. What can you do with yourself if I refuse to see you? How is a woman to become when she is too busy reducing herself as not to become too much? Thinking about the Medusa Myth Levy brings up, I had stray thoughts about women who ‘talk to much’, the ‘big mouth bitches’. Being an audience for rowdy men coming of age when I did, I always remember incidents when a woman was dismissed with those ugly labels. It was always ridiculous to me, even when I was too young to really comprehend gender issues, that the loudest man in the room could call anyone a big mouth simply for having thoughts and opinions, or for daring to disagree with him. There is no bigger insult than being dismissed, reduced to a joke. Love doesn’t ask you to hide, to dilute yourself. I don’t think that women, as a whole, feel nearly as threatened by their partners success. No, they’re too busy feeling ashamed for feeling proud of their accomplishments, as if they’re stealing thunder, as if there isn’t enough to go around. Maybe these things change with each generation, but that Simone de Beauvoir’s voice makes as much sense today as it did then tells me things aren’t as progressive as we think.

The tender moment she shares with us about her dying mother was my undoing. Our mothers truly are a mystery and as much as we love them, it’s hard to allow them room for a self separate from the nurturer we always expect to show up. Not even if we become mothers ourselves. Our mothers are gravity. Children get jealous if their mother’s attention is divided, it’s a funny thing. Husbands too. We forgive them nothing, though we are kinder to our father’s, I believe we feel safer to be ourselves with our mothers. We hold them to impossible standards, and we don’t want them to be more than what we need them to be. Being a woman is an exhausting endeavour, it is not for the cowardly.

The topic of language, about expressing ourselves, how healthy it is, I always wonder about writers, that maybe we have this irrepressible need to scream with written words. I also wonder what all our mothers would have shouted if they all lifted a pen and were able to release their inner lives. Such work is all consuming selfishness though isn’t it, if you’re a woman?

“Sometimes we want to unbelong as much as we want to belong.” That’s a loaded sentence, in order to discover who we are we rage against what we don’t want to be. I am not this, I am not that, and I may not know what I am but I know what I’m not at least. I know my thoughts are splitting in many directions but that’s the type of book this is. There are so many questions no one asks of us that we so badly need to answer. Oh and how about “Things I Don’t Want to Know” of which the older we get, there are plenty! Well, I’ll take my mind, overcrowded with thoughts, brimming over with things I don’t want to know, that I can’t unknow and try to sleep.

This is an intelligent work and I wish it were longer.

Publication Date: July 10, 2018

Bloomsbury USA


2 thoughts on “The Cost of Living: A Working Authobiography by Deborah Levy

  1. I’m torn on whether I like Deborah Levy. I’ve read two books I loved (Swimming Home & Hot Milk) and two I really disliked (Billy and Girl & Black Vodka). Have you read any more of her work that you’d recommend? I’m thinking of giving some of her stuff another go 📚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t read much, but I enjoyed Hot Milk and Black Vodka, both I liked. I haven’t read Swimming Home or much else beyond what I’ve mentioned and The Cost of Living, her writing engages me. I think you’ve read more than me. my friend keeps telling me to read Pillow Talk in Europe and Other Places. If I do, I’ll let you know if it’s good. It’s so hard when some books really speak to you and others by the same author you just can’t get into, there are a few authors like that for me too.

      Liked by 2 people

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