Shortlisted for the 2012 Booker Prize, Swimming Home captures the milieu of the French Riviera and — as Tom McCarthy points out in his introduction — turns the conventions of the bourgeois holiday novel completely on their head. Levy, a skilled prose stylist and playwright, shows her dramatist stripe with the tightly focused and engaging plot. Told with expert execution, the story concerns a Jewish poet, Joe Jacobs, born Jozef Nowogrodzki, who is on vacation with his war correspondent wife and teenage daughter. When they arrive at the villa, they find the body of a mysterious young woman, Kitty Finch, floating motionless in the swimming pool; yet, she is alive. The Jacobs allow Kitty to stay with them, and we follow many of the vacationers for one week via a rotating narration. Life in the villa grows more complicated with threats of infidelity, discussions of writing and the writing life, and the overpowering weight of personal history that threatens many of the characters’ chances at happiness. Throughout, Levy maintains a haunting, mythic tone — a tone compounded by the subterranean histories of characters that slowly and deliciously emerge.
The passages that concern Joe’s profession — reading, writing, and living poetically — all come through artfully, as a result of Levy’s deft characterizations and scene setting. But Kitty is the real hook here: her anxieties and eccentricities are enchanting and her amorphous, shape-shifting qualities are consistently drawn in this elegant and evocative novel. The comparisons the book has received to Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway are with merit. There is so much powerful symbolism and sign play going on that most readers will delight in paying close attention from first sentence to the last.