Today I get to stay home with my reading, writing and my thoughts. I just had the perfect Sunday lunch, a poppy seed bagel (even if it’s a day old), some Edam cheese, olives and fresh leafy salad with wild rocket and cherry tomatoes thrown in. At a dinner party last month, I was telling an acquaintance who hailed from Normandy where he could get Normandy butter locally, he said the best French butter was this soft organic butter that he could not quite recall the brand and would text me later about the name so he did two days later. I finally managed to pick up the recommended butter ‘Le Gall Cru Moule Doux’ from a grocer on Friday evening. Indeed this particular brand of French butter tastes heavenly.
I’m re-reading The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy .Whenever I stumble on some writings or books that I feel friends who read might enjoy, I have to curb the impulse of getting additional copies as gifts. Not only the gesture is neither economical nor prudent, but my intention might end up weighing on another reader or bibliophile’s conscience to read when he or she in all likelihood has already had a long reading list and books that they cannot wait to devour with relish. As I have taken to reading several books at any given time, inevitably some books get a false start and I have to resume from the beginning while others may take some time to reach the finishing line. Nonetheless though I do not believe in multitasking, I still believe in reading multiple books at any given time.
As I mentioned in my earlier posts that I had really enjoyed Levy’s writings and apart from reading
Hot Milk click and Swimming Home click, my subsequent reads were by her as well. The Cost of Living is the second installment of Levy’s living / working autobiography on writing and womanhood. As she approaches fifty years of age, she is a mother of two teenage daughters and has to reinvent her life after her divorce from a man with whom she has shared a life together for two decades. During the same period, she is also dealing with the bereavement of losing her mother. Her introspections are unassuming and relatable. She is able to present the past alongside the presence without using any flashback and her prose is impeccable. Her essays read like scenes from a play or a black and white film.
‘ To separate from love is to live a risk-free life. What’s the point of that sort of life?’ Levy muses. She writes,
‘To live without love is a waste of time . I was living in the Republic of Writing and Children. I was not Simone de Beauvoir after all. No, I had got off the train at a different stop (marriage) and stepped on to a different platform ( children). She was my muse but I was certainly not hers.
All the same we had both bought a ticket (earned with our own money ) for the same train. The destination was to head towards a freer life. That is a vague destination, no one knows what it looks like when we get there. It is a journey without end, but I did not know that then. I was just on my way.’
In my twenties, I read Simone de Beauvoir when I was supposed to reading cases and law texts. Despite her enduring love and commitment for Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir resolved never to marry him and make a home with Jean-Paul Sartre as ‘she knew she never wanted children or to serve his breakfast or run his errands or pretend she was not intellectually engaged with the world to make herself more loveable to him.’
What Simone de Beauvoir did in the 1950s was certainly very radical then.
Here are some other snippets from Deborah Levy’s memoir under the chapter entitled “ The Black and Bluish Darkness”
‘Actually , I had no idea what serenity felt like. Serenity is supposed to be one of the main characters in old-fashioned femininity’s cultural personality. She is serene and she endures. Yes, she is so talented at enduring and suffering they might even be the main characters in her story.
It was possible that femininity, as I had been taught it , had come to an end. Femininity, as a cultural personality, was no longer expressive for me. It was obvious that femininity, as written by men and performed by women, was the exhausted phantom that still haunted the early twenty-first century. What would it cost to step out of character and stop the story?’ “ The phantom of feminitiy is an illusion, a delusion, a societal hallucination. She is a very tricky character to play and it is a role (sacrifice, endurance, cheerful suffering ) that has made some women go mad. This was not a story I wanted to hear all over again.
It was time to find new main characters with other talents.‘
She also writes,
‘And what could I say to my daughters? ‘Um, I’m not like those mothers who lived through you, no no, not at all.’
In The Cost of Living, Deborah Levy muses about female autonomy and societal roles. Her memoir is about writing and what it is to be a woman. Her contemplations are insightful, clever and infused with humour and warmth.