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.
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.
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.