The Cost of Living explores the subtle erasure of women's names, spaces, and stories in the modern everyday. In this 'living autobiography' infused with warmth and humor, Deborah Levy critiques the roles that society assigns to us, and reflects on the politics of breaking with the usual gendered rituals.
...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 colour' – 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'.
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.
The memoir titled The Cost of Living is the follow-up to an even slimmer memoir titled Things I Don’t Want to Know. Each is, in its way, about the author’s attempts to learn to wrest control of her life ... There are unhappily chained or caged animals; there are stinging creatures (bees and jellyfish); there are odd moments of social discomposure, from attending an important meeting with muddy leaves in one’s hair to accidentally leaving your shirt unbuttoned ... so many minor moments of quotidian grace and wit also filter through The Cost of Living — while she is discussing melons or plumbing or garden writing sheds — that it is always a pleasure to consume ...She isn’t collecting her thoughts here so much as she is purposefully discollecting them. Calm and order, she suggests, are vastly overrated.