[A] wonderful new book ... Levy, whose prose is at once declarative and concrete and touched with an almost oracular pithiness, has a gift for imbuing ordinary observations with the magic of metaphor ... The new volume, which follows the death of one version of the self, describes the uncertain birth of another ... She herself is not always a purely likable, or reliable, narrator of her own experience, and her book is the richer for it.
The book asks more questions than it answers, most of which circle back to the idea of a woman’s desires and how those would look if they could be separated from the expectations of a patriarchal culture ... In a series of vignettes that cross continents, Levy foregrounds the quotidian – shopping, clothes, incidental conversations – and through it allows the association of ideas to lead her into a dialogue between art and life, mothers and daughters, past and present ... The narrator of Real Estate is drily funny, irreverent, curious, even wise; she makes the reader want her for a companion ... Each of these books [in Levy's trilogy] bears several re-readings; together, they offer one version of how a woman might continually rewrite her own story.
The itemization of exquisite beauty (and its counterpart, magnificent ugliness) coupled with the randomness of fate and the ambushes of the past are hallmarks of Levy’s work ... Levy’s writing mirrors life’s incautious and uneven trajectories. Eternally curious and wide-ranging, her reported conversations with and observations of both strangers and intimates weave a wayward trail through a dense forest ...This is a work about what it means to be a writer: its reinventions, isolations, self-interrogations, its shifting penury and riches, both emotional and financial ... The outcome is a glittering triple echo of books that are as much philosophical discourse as a manifesto for living and writing.
... delightful, ruminative ... The book’s 'living autobiography' format makes everything immediate, like a diary — if you were a diarist with a gift for metaphor and literary references at the ready ... Her writing is elliptical and episodic, as if tracing the movement of her mind. But it’s clearly crafted, with ideas recurring and expanding as the book goes on. And for all we see of her moving through the world and her work, her discussion of the places she writes and mentions of the machines she’s written on, she doesn’t portray herself in the act of writing. The book feels as if we’re listening in on her very thoughts, and yet those thoughts are composed off-screen ... She is warm and, dare I say, likable.
Reading Levy, I thought of her as the anti-Knausgaard: Whereas the Scandinavian man writes his books with exhaustive detail, Levy’s books tell as big a story, but with great economy. They are slim volumes packed with insight and eloquence – illuminating the female experience in a patriarchal world ... If you don’t want to feel anything at all, look elsewhere. Real Estate, published in late May, is another feel-inducing masterwork ... What Levy has taught me is that this stage of life – let’s call it late midlife – does not need to be just about endings. It is also a beginning ... Levy has other things to tell us. With these memoirs, she has shown us a different approach to life. This is a thing I do want to know.
It’s quintessential Levy. The languid yet precise prose, the fine mind she allows to wander through a series of ideas and connections before getting to the nub ... Thematically she is picking up where she left off, as many of the same preoccupations are here too: what it is to be a woman, patriarchy and power, and the gendered nature of domestic spaces ... Journeys to Mumbai, New York and Berlin are rendered beautifully, but the joy of this book is the magic Levy finds in the ordinary, or perhaps the magic she makes of it ... What makes this trilogy unique is, perhaps, her voracious curiosity. Not only does nothing escape her gaze, but there is no hierarchy.
Reading her prose is like looking at grains of sand through a microscope: Suddenly, you realize there’s so much more specificity to the story (and to the female characters) than meets the eye. What a particular pleasure it is to meet her nuanced work on the page through a voice that is witty and bold, masterfully drawing connections between the charged moments of her life ... Perhaps that’s what’s so freeing about Levy’s autobiographies: the ways in which she repeatedly challenges the status quo. We don’t have to stick with the same old stories about what a woman’s life should look like. We don’t have to own the house we yearn for in order to be fulfilled ... The way in which Levy associates one thought with the next has a hypnotic but clarifying effect.
Levy’s prose remains so idiosyncratic and inventive that it would do her a disservice to pigeonhole her as part of a trend. Indeed, her voice was – intriguingly, bafflingly, arrestingly – original long before she decided to write her own story in the first person ... unlike Cusk’s glacial yet choppy style, Levy’s voice, with its stream-of-consciousness fluidity and moments of self-deprecating bathos, is warmer, more gregarious and funnier ... Many readers might conclude that by finally adopting her 'own' voice, Levy has evolved as a woman and as a writer and become empowered. It is clear that in her 'living autobiography' she has relaxed and matured. Yet it would be unfair to her earlier writing to regard her new voice as progress rather than process.
Levy’s chapter on cleaning out her stepmother’s apartment is a particularly good example of the recursive structure and ruminative speculation that undergird all good personal genres. But in other places, her linkages between disparate objects seem forced or underdeveloped. In Greece, for example, she stays on Hydra, the island where Leonard Cohen loved and left his treasured Marianne. But Levy’s own catalog of goodbyes, told through the lens of Cohen’s, doesn’t reach the level of poignancy either deserves. On the other hand, she adroitly interweaves the tension between an artist’s—especially a female artist’s—need for solitude and need for family and friends. Not to mention the attendant obligations thereof. To Levy’s credit, Real Estate, the final installment of her triparted autobiography, holds neither a hint of rancor nor victimhood. Instead, with wit and insight, she takes us where few new books go: into the lively, varied, happy world of an intelligent older woman.
It’s Levy’s openness to the quirks and peccadilloes of others that makes Levy’s work so invigorating. She’s a prober, but not a heavy-handed one ... Her prose is at once playful and multilayered. She offers fascinating glimpses into how her experiences sometimes work their way into her novel-in-progress ... Levy reminds us that happiness can’t be measured in holdings, square footage or property values. 'Of all the arts,' she writes, 'the art of living is probably the most important.' It’s a skill she’s polished, like her writing, to a fine sheen.
One of the pleasures of this volume is Levy’s relating to her daughters as adults ... Levy’s wry humor and attention to the art of living make her good company on the page, with wisdom weaved in from her touchstone authors, including James Baldwin, Walter Benjamin, and Leonora Carrington. At a time when the pandemic restricted travel, I appreciated the armchair travel on offer in Real Estate: I could taste the guava ice cream with salt and chili powder in Mumbai and feel the chill of December sleet at a café in Berlin ... stays on safe — if scenic — ground.
A sense of the absurd, coupled with a gift for a striking image, runs through these three elliptical but exuberant volumes of memoir ... They are singular and generous explorations of womanhood and writing ... Real Estate...is more wistful but just as shrewd as the earlier volumes ... She delights in the uncanny – Freud and surrealism feed her imagination – but doesn’t like to overexplain, leaving enigmas for the reader to unlock, and placing images next to each other with none of the connective tissue.
Fans of Levy’s alluring, highly allusive fiction will appreciate the insights into her life; moreover, anyone with an ounce of curiosity will be fascinated by her compelling tour of city streets, island rocks and meandering diversions into ideas ...Immediately, we see Levy’s talent for revealing the extraordinary hiding beneath the mundane, her freewheeling skill for interrogating quotidian acts and examining commonplace expressions to take us beyond their surface simplicity into complex depths ... Levy’s books are here to inspire, delight, rouse and provoke us all.
Real Estate is less dramatic [than The Cost of Living]. Levy has already made her break with the life that was dragging her down. But working out what comes next is no less challenging, even if it is a quieter, more interior sort of affair ... Levy’s gift is to transport you to wherever she is, giving a rich sense of what it is like through describing the food, smells and landscapes ... Typical Levy - curious about the world and seeing wonder in it. But it isn’t gushing, there is a poise to the writing. Levy makes astute observations about inequality and sexism without getting ranty or self-pitying. The result is a beautifully crafted and thought-provoking snapshot of a life. It’s not a satisfying conclusion but endings are always difficult. Hopefully Levy will reconsider this being the final part and write another. This is a generous book - Levy has shared her vulnerabilities and what makes her happy; it is a pleasure to spend time in her company.
Often while reading Real Estate, which is a playful, candid, and a supremely elegant exploration of Levy's concept of — and desire for — home, I found myself wishing that she would come sit down with me ... Levy often makes me a greedy reader, eager for much more than she offers. I mean this as very high praise. Her writing, especially in her memoirs, tends to take the form of short, lightly lyrical sections, some no more than a paragraph long. Each one holds a beautifully distilled idea, a question worth returning to, or a description so cockeyed and lovely it begs the reader to linger. In Real Estate, Levy reserves her prettiest writing — which, I should note, is never, ever flowery — for her "unreal estate": the dream house she designs and redesigns throughout the book ... vibrant and kinetic, never predictable and yet always direct. Like all Levy's books, it is as good on the second read as the first, if not better. Few writers are able to give so much so swiftly. Levy's hospitality on the page is a delight.
Levy has slipped into more comfortable clothing and unpinned her curls: the writing is looser, her tone wryer, the incidents more anecdotal than transformative. Though a lighter read, Levy’s signature vibrant take on Freudian interpretation remains, as she imbues the objects of every day with nearly totemic significance, and dissects 'the private magic we invent to keep us out of harm’s way' ... a careful balancing act of withholding and revelation. Levy uses the other characters she encounters as a way to refract her own point of view.
In this relatively short book, Levy offers a stream of profound observations ... dripping with quickness of wit and poetry. Somehow, even the simplest of household items are made beautiful, and acquire a meditative presence in the narrative ... Levy’s exceptional clarity of thought takes readers from Greece to feminism to motherhood, from New York and Paris to patriarchy ... far more than a memoir. It is a rich portrayal of what Levy says she values most – not exclusive residences and private property, but 'real human relations and imagination'.
[Levy's] voice – at once jokey and elliptical – is so casually intimate that it feels like catching up with an old friend ... In explicitly evoking Virginia Woolf’s diaries and novels, Levy articulates something of the mysterious power of her own memoirs ... In three moving memoirs, Levy has perfectly fused the act of writing with the art of living.
... [Levy] deftly moves between thoughts on her family and relationships to the works of art she loves ... Levy does not often discuss her Jewish history, but on a trip to Berlin she sees a disused shower head sitting incongruously in a restaurant, and it causes her to think of the atrocities her relatives faced in the Holocaust. The narrative moves on quickly, and Levy wonders if she should just 'leave things as they are,' but by putting the moment in her book, she is working to reclaim the memory, ascribing more power to her writing than to the physical space.
At its best, Real Estate offers the same hard-won, lucid wisdom that made The Cost of Living essential reading for anyone who has a mother or is one ... Yet I missed the urgency of the earlier book, its frank display of dramatic self-excavation. The deconstruction of the family home, a mother’s death — these are essentially more powerful subjects than literary festivals and writers’ residencies.
Levy writes so well about women who break away to create new narratives and take shape as lead protagonists in their own stories ... more than a memoir; it’s a re-evaluation of what it means to write about the self. Levy’s voice is intimate, formal and always surprising; her style philosophical, funny and incredibly sensual ... Levy’s writing is always full of strong feelings. If Levy’s books are her real estate, she has built herself – and her guests – a rather splendid palace. Getting to know Levy, I also feel like I’m getting to know myself. What a rich gift her living autobiography is.
... open-hearted ... Levy’s chapter on cleaning out her stepmother’s apartment is a particularly good example of the recursive structure and ruminative speculation that undergird all good personal genres. But in other places, her linkages between disparate objects seem forced or underdeveloped. In Greece, for example, she stays on Hydra, the island where Leonard Cohen loved and left his treasured Marianne. But Levy’s own catalog of goodbyes, told through the lens of Cohen’s, doesn’t reach the level of poignancy either deserves ... On the other hand, she adroitly interweaves the tension between an artist’s — especially a female artist’s — need for solitude and need for family and friends ... holds neither a hint of rancor nor victimhood. Instead, with wit and insight, she takes us where few new books go: into the lively, varied, happy world of an intelligent older woman.
Duras’s disappointment with the timidity of most writing could be the inspiration for Levy’s individual, seemingly effortless but highly crafted style ... conversational and coolly confessional ... pulses with ideas and emotion. Honest, original, invigorating and at times challenging, it captures Levy’s singular life, and the foundations on which it is built.
Levy brings her trilogy of autobiographies home in this incandescent meditation on writing, womanhood, and the places that nurture both ... [A] delightful memoir-in-vignettes ... Her wry wit and descriptive powers are more pleasurable than any plot. Eloquent and unapologetically frank, Levy’s astute narrative is a place worth lingering in.
Levy’s story initially begins as a stream of consciousness but soon evolves into a beautifully written interconnected piece featuring eloquent descriptions of her surroundings and quotes from writers that infiltrate her thoughts ... In closing, as Levy inventories her possessions, she is able to find fresh meaning among her belongings. A captivating journey to find a sense of place.
There were times, reading Real Estate, when I wondered where Levy’s loose, free-roaming meditations were headed ... Perhaps it’s just easier to spend time with someone struggling to unblock her sink with a Master Plunger than with the feted guest at a literary symposium. Or perhaps it’s a function of reading in post-pandemic times, when the apocalyptic repercussions of all our decisions are newly inescapable, but as she steps into her air conditioned hotel in Mumbai I found myself crabbily thinking of carbon emissions and refugees ... The notion of the refugee pervades these books, and she duly notes the disparity between the hotel and poverty of the streets she’s just witnessed. Yet it seems fleeting: We’re in a different territory, in this book, from the hyperacute political sensitivities of the Johannesburg chapter of Things I Don’t Want to Know ... Levy is often compared to Rachel Cusk and other contemporary stars of autofiction, but reading her for me evokes earlier, more ardent writers grappling with scenes of life with children—Tillie Olsen, Penelope Fitzgerald, Doris Lessing—women striving to align their possession by the chaos of motherhood with their immense creative ambition ... Like Fitzgerald, Levy has a gift for the pithy, annihilating moment of gnomic insight .. .embark on Levy’s rollicking, intimate journey, and you’ll have the joy of reaching this destination yourself.