‘Did you notice when you said the word feminist an alarm went off?’
Deborah Levy’s recent novel was declined for being ‘too literary’. A Booker-nomination followed
Did her family know Mandela?
“Oh yes. My father disappeared when I was five, came back when I was nine, and then we had to leave. It happened to us, to Mandela and to other families who were fighting for a non-racial democracy. If you witness cruelty at an early age, and to children, it stays with you. I remember seeing dogs set on children, or if the African kids came into the school and scavenged in the bins looking for food, the white kids would chase them off and taunt them. How can that not have an effect? We have to articulate what we want to fight for and find the courage to fight for it.”
The move from South Africa to London has infused Levy’s work with a peripatetic feel. The Black Vodka st ories flit between European cities (a key scene happens in a Dublin pub). Airports feature because Levy is interested in “the idea of whether we’re arriving or departing, saying hello or goodbye.” Those absences suit themselves to brevity and Levy admits that she enjoys writing short stories more than novels.
Swimming Home was her first novel for 12 years (with a short-story collection in-between) but Levy has written and adapted almost 20 plays for radio and stage. As professor of writing in illustration at Falmouth University, she is intrigued by the overlap between the visual and written word. There is talk of turning her story Stardust Nation into a graphic novel with illustrator/designer Andrzej Klimowski.
We discuss Joyce and how film seeped into his work. “Short stories are more like films than anything else. I think David Lynch has been an influence on me. I’m more interested in character than he is, but we share a sort of playfulness. I adore
. And then there’s someone like Tarantino, who writes great dialogue. In his work you get gangsters talking about Sylvia Plath, and I love that. So maybe I’m a cross between Michael Haneke and Tarantino. That would suit me.”
Black Vodka is published by And Other Stories. andotherstories.org