Ms. Levy rewards close readers by packing her sardine-can-slim novels with tight connections ... August Blue, which builds to a moving climax, is more emotionally accessible than Ms. Levy’s previous novels. But it too encompasses the cerebral and the sentimental, realism and surrealism, love and loss, the drive to create art—and the ambiguities of human relations.
In Levy’s latest novel, August Blue, it is musical recomposition that becomes the overt, and sometimes overly self-conscious, metaphor for female revolt and reinvention ... With unconvincing touches of magical realism dabbed onto a caricature of the classical music scene, Levy’s latest take on women’s agony and agency in a patriarchal world reads less like a novel and more like a manifesto nailed to a rickety plot ... Along the way, the book offers glimpses of Levy’s talent as a stylist. She can sketch a scene with a few precise brushstrokes and conjure emotion out of white space on the page ... For an author so committed to dismantling stereotypes, it is a shame Levy should sketch out her own with such a thick pen.
Levy’s novels have an undeniable—and undeniably winning—eccentricity. The introduction of a doppelgänger is a typically atypical move. Levy doesn’t exactly practice magical realism; her books are too tethered to the practicalities of life to ever be described that way. But her plots turn on weird moments and comical misunderstandings ... What’s thrilling about Levy’s novels is that they are alive with this relentless spirit of questing ... Levy’s feminist critique of the classical-music world is uncharacteristically lumpy. She overworks the theme of a woman forced to master the scores of male geniuses while suppressing her own creativity ... We should call her what she is: one of the most lively, most gratifying novelists of ideas at work today.
Levy writes like a dream and I mean that quite literally. I know of few other authors who can capture an atmosphere of the eerie and the bizarre as well as she does. Her novels have a strange clarity and precision about being nebulous and shifting, and there are details, just as in a vivid dream ... Sense of dissolution and friability is played out on a grammatical level. Were this book a musical score rather than a novel, there are parts that would clearly be marked with the notation for a fermata ... Part of the novel’s power is that it is oblique but not opaque. Although it is a work of scathing (to use a word used here) intelligence, it packs a pianissimo emotional punch at the end. Its sharpness is not without absurdity.
Levy builds her worlds as though concocting a dream sequence – and the effect is exhilarating ... August Blue holds the remarkable balancing act that is key to Levy’s writing: perfect precision at the sentence level combined with a dedication to exploring the slipperiness of reality ... August Blue is full of such delightfully strange moments – and it is these that linger long in the mind.
[Levy's] most emphatically uncanny yet ... This is not a long book, but Levy is such a clever writer, her plot so immaculately packed, that August Blue reads like a weighty one. Everything has a double meaning ... This latest novel is about death and loss, and what happens when those closest to us die. We see them everywhere, in shadows, in strangers, in visions in the dark. When they have gone we cannot help but wonder who they really were. Without them we question, too, who we really are.
Deborah Levy’s novels have combined a gauzy, episodic quality with pinpoint sensual detail drawn from peripatetic lives, crossing fluently between languages and national borders. Her style is full of gaps and sharp edges, circling around questions of gender and power, inheritance, autonomy and lack ... The narrative here has a fittingly musical quality, running forward in spurts, pausing, repeating key phrases ... The least satisfying element of August Blue is the trim, textbook nature of these Freudian mechanics, their compliance to orderly, orthodox progression ... But the wistful, fabular quality is appealing, as are those aphoristic statements Levy is so skilled at dispensing: sly comments on contemporary power dynamics likewise in the process of changing into new and as yet uncertain forms.
Flickers constantly between comedy and darkness. Her prose is as quick and bare as ever, her manner excitingly abrupt ... Doubling also serves Levy’s characteristic urge to mischief, her playfulness with symbol, connection and allusion ... Everything is a metaphor for something else, a clue to some other event, and that’s what makes this such a gleeful read. You know you’ve picked up only a fraction of what Levy has left for you to find; you know you’ll read August Blue again. At the same time, you’re forced to concede that once again she’s also made you feel more, perhaps, than you wanted. Emotionally, she’s opened you up as skilfully as she would open an item of seafood.
Levy quietly but insistently acknowledges queer possibilities ... On the surface, August Blue is in the gothic tradition ... This is very much a literary novel; there’s not a lot of violence, not a lot of suspense, not a lot of plot demanding you turn to the next page and the next. August Blue is a short book that meanders, following itself across Europe, across memory, across a cosmopolitan landscape of identity and desire. Hate and paranoia are propulsive; acceptance and love move, in general, at a slower pace. Levy encourages you to savor the slowness.
The confidence of this voice is very seductive, and August Blue is a smooth, pleasurable read ... For all Levy’s experimental credentials, I found August Blue a little formulaic, perhaps even a little too obvious ... The psychoanalytical strain is rather crudely done, and unredeemed by the playfully Freudian cigar that Elsa’s double smokes. The mystery of the horses is resolved, but this clarity does Levy no favours.
Unfolds like a dream – surreal, beguiling, enigmatic. As with most of Levy’s work, it creates a singular world ... There is turmoil, but like the oil painting by Henry Scott Tuke that gives this novel its name, there is also calm, the potential for transformation, and rebirth in the deep blue.
Levy’s slender, enchanted novel August Blue has all the piercing detail and bewildering movement of a midafternoon dream ... In addition to being a novelist, Levy is also a poet. Her storytelling moves to its own music. Her sentences are sharp, sensuous, crackling with ironic humor. Her paragraphs are compact, full of tension that pulls the reader forward. The novel offers the reader a dazzling gaze at the conundrums of existence.
Deborah Levy’s writing is like Philip Glass’s music. Both create meaning through repetition; both provoke either reverence or profound ambivalence. So, while fans of Levy’s work...will think her latest novel, August Blue, mesmerizing, others may find its enigmatic and symbolic approach disorienting to the point of frustration ... I had the nagging impression that ideas embedded in images such as this have the same quality as Levy’s writing; you either 'get' it or you don’t. For those that do – myself included – August Blue is packed with flavors...while the synesthetic quality of the writing will be another of its pleasures.
Deborah Levy’s newest addition to her strange, enigmatic collection of fiction is a hazy mystery, interspersed with details that play with form that makes Levy one of the most exciting writers today. Elsa’s story is one of identity, past selves, alter egos and shadows that haunt us all. August Blue emerges not as one of Levy’s most memorable works, but as a pleasant addition to the collection of storytelling prowess she’s already built.
Another magnificent experiment in surrealism ... Levy’s sensual descriptions make the conceit come to life...and when the two women finally meet, their exchange leads Elsa to a most illuminating revelation. This is a stunner.