An astute observer of both the mundane and the inexplicable, Levy sketches memorable details in just a few strokes...What makes this book stand out, however, is that Levy doesn’t allow herself to linger over these details. There’s no stretching every moment to an unnecessarily prolonged beat ... She’s like an expert rafter, and the river she travels is full of encounters and emotions. While another writer might give us a lengthy tour of this turbulent water, Levy doesn’t slow down. There’s joy in her maneuvering through the rapids, difficult though they may be. And there’s joy for us in watching her.
What is wonderful about this short, sensual, embattled memoir is that it is not only about the painful landmarks in her life—the end of a marriage, the death of a mother—it is about what it is to be alive ... After her marriage breaks down—at a time when her career is ascending—Levy and her two young daughters move into a north London block of flats which she describes, in its stricken deficiency, with panache. She makes of the flat a story, with its big skies and its sterile corridor ... She describes the bees that are her unexpected flatmates, her prospering strawberry plants, and the exotic oranges with cardamom that she and her daughters eat for breakfast. She writes entertainingly about her attempt, encouraged by a friend, at 'living with color'—her yellow bedroom a garishly false move ... This is a little book about a big subject. It is about how to 'find a new way of living.'
...so many minor moments of quotidian grace and wit...filter through The Cost of Living...that it is always a pleasure to consume ... [Levy] isn’t collecting her thoughts here so much as she is purposefully discollecting them. Calm and order, she suggests, are vastly overrated.
...a flinty and moving memoir ... Levy finds strength in rejecting the patriarchal clichés ... Better for her to wade through the 'black and bluish darkness' than reach for the cold comfort of victimhood ... middle age for Levy isn’t a third act; it’s a prologue to an entirely new adventure.
The Cost of Living, the second volume of her 'working autobiography,' confirms that this is a writer who has found her voice and her subject, and both speak directly to our times ... The Cost of Living is concerned with not just how to write, but how to live. Levy asks questions that evoke Sheila Heti’s semi-fictional novel, How Should a Person Be?: 'What is a woman for? What should a woman be?' And more pointedly, what does it take for a woman to be the main character in her life? ... Levy’s radar for sexism is acute. She chides close male friends who fail to refer to their wives by name, and flags the self-absorbed men she encounters at parties and on trains. Her deconstruction of a conversation overheard in a bar between a man and the young woman he’s trying to pick up is rich ... She begins and ends her story at just the right points, with plenty of astute observations in between.
When, not long ago, she left her husband of twenty years, a friend offered her a shed in her back garden and made sure that no one interrupted her there so that she could write. 'To be valued and respected in this way, as if it were the most normal thing in the world, was a new experience,' Levy tells us in The Cost of Living, her new memoir, the second in a projected trilogy. 'It was there that I would begin to write in the first person, using an I that is close to myself and yet is not myself.' Learning to like your own voice might be as feminist as writing in it. Mary Wollstonecraft, believing her life to be as interesting to her readers as her political tracts, published the letters that she sent home on a trip to Scandinavia; Virginia Woolf wrote five volumes of diaries; Simone de Beauvoir brought out four books of autobiography.
The Cost of Living is filled with the feeling of travel, and yet one of its main preoccupations is home ... Levy would never tell another woman to live the way she does, or to live any one way at all. She's too sophisticated a feminist for that ... she's thriving in this new, uncharted life. Her work is, too ... For writing this good, the cost of living is plainly the right price to pay.
She’s a master of puns and pithy, surprising twists, often deployed at her own expense, though she finds it difficult to let funny accidents or coincidences be merely what they are ... She’s taking what she’s got and going with it, as in her writing, which riffs on seemingly random images and ideas, creating connections that make these short books feel holistic and sweeping. She uses motifs, such as roses and footsteps, like landmarks on a map, which are useful signposts in her frequently disorienting story ... It’s a testament to Levy’s light touch and originality elsewhere that her feminist epiphanies and extended metaphors—life is a tempest, a book or film in which she is trying to conceive of herself as a major character, and a journey—don’t immediately register as cliché.
Approaching 50, recently separated from her husband of 20 years, cash-strapped and juggling the needs of children and work, Levy is fully occupied with the task of simultaneously understanding life and living it. She moves with her two daughters to a sixth-floor flat in a dilapidated Art Deco building on the top of a hill in north London ... Slipstreaming between past and present, The Cost of Living lingers with wry delight on life’s absurdities. Levy buys herself an electric bike and whizzes around London, skirts flying, hands frequently oil-stained. She attends an important meeting to discuss the possible film adaptation of one of her novels, only later realizing that she has three small muddy leaves stuck in her hair. It was not a good look ... The subtle and blatant ways in which the lives and dreams of women are constrained by their societal roles, and how one might step out of those roles, is the pressing concern at the heart of The Cost of Living, as it is in Levy’s fiction.
Levy's style is fragmented, each anecdote as luminous, self-contained and hard as the pearls in the necklace she habitually wears around her throat. There's humor here and vulnerability; after all, in addition to her divorce, Levy has to weather those other common melancholy midlife markers—the death of her mother and the departure of one of her two daughters for college. But above all, The Cost of Living is a smart, slim meditation on womanhood informed by Levy's wide reading.
After divorce and her mother’s death, a writer struggles to redefine herself ... 'It is the patriarchal story that has been broken.' The author has much to say about ways that the patriarchal story erases women’s identity ... An elegant, candid meditation on the fraught journey to self-knowledge.
(Levy) explores the role she has played in the past: that of the nurturing 'architect' of family life. Now she hopes to reinvent herself as an independent woman who not only provides for her children, but who enjoys a new physical (e.g., she whizzes about on an electric bike) and creative energy in 'the most professionally busy time' in her life ... Levy describes writing as 'looking, listening, and paying attention,' and she accomplishes these with apparent ease. Her descriptions of the people she meets, the conversations she overhears, and the nuances she perceives in relationships are keen and moving ... This timely look at how women are viewed (and often dismissed) by society will resonate with many readers, but particularly with those who have felt marginalized or undervalued.
The Cost of Living, Levy tackles the herculean task of dreaming up a new life. Of becoming the 'major character' in her own storyline. Having left her husband of twenty years...she moves her daughters from the family home to a dilapidated apartment in London. A friend loans her a chilly garden shed to write in, and she spends her days there, fashioning a new existence from words ... Not a bad life, all in all. Miserable sometimes, of course, but also happy. And free in a way we are only now starting to understand.
Reading like an extended meditative essay rather than a traditional memoir or autobiography, The Cost of Living is about retelling one’s story — and about continuing that story past its expected ending, which, for a woman, is the cliché of being married with children and living happily ever after ... At times, Levy leaves out as much as she tells us, coming across as someone who is not at peace with the tortuous course her life has taken. But how many of us are? As her subtitle tells us, this is a working autobiography, a work in progress. As she writes toward the end, Levy is not interested in 'the major female character that has always been written' but rather in 'a major unwritten female character.' And, here, Levy has taken the first steps to creating that character, leaving it to others to develop her more fully.