At the height of her career, the piano virtuoso Elsa M. Anderson—former child prodigy, now in her thirties—walks off the stage in Vienna, mid-performance. Now she is in Athens, watching an uncannily familiar woman purchase a pair of mechanical dancing horses at a flea market. Elsa wants the horses too, but there are no more for sale. She drifts to the ferry port, on the run from her talent and her history. So begins her journey across Europe, shadowed by the elusive woman who seems to be her double.
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.
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.
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.