Fiction Black Vodka Levy Omnivore reviews

Published on February 1st, 2013


Black Vodka by Deborah Levy

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Blurb: ‘Kissing you is like new paint and old pain. It is like coffee and car alarms and a dim stairway and a stain and it’s like smoke.’ (‘Placing a Call’) How does love change us? And how do we change ourselves for love – or for lack of it? Ten stories by acclaimed author Deborah Levy explore these delicate, impossible questions. In Vienna, an icy woman seduces a broken man; in London gardens, birds sing in computer start-up sounds; in ad-land, a sleek copywriter becomes a kind of shaman. (And Other Stories)

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Julia Pascal, The Independent [fiev]

As for the perfection needed for the genre; yes, Levy can do macro-and microcosm. These tales of unconventional love reinforce her reputation as a major contemporary writer who never pulls her punches.

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Phil Baker, The Sunday Times

Levy’s sparse, elegant, uneasy stories gain poetic, faintly surreal effects from striking details such as the “naked pear” that Lisa and the ad man see in a liqueur bottle. Like the black vodka he advertises, these tales are shot through with “stylish angst”.

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Anthony Cummins, The Financial Times

Added to Levy’s sinister, near-private language – eerie motifs in these stories include wolves and eczema – this collection includes many events that seemingly contribute less to meaning than to mood. In “Cave Girl”, for instance, the narrator describes a motorway collision between a furniture van and a baker’s truck: “The drivers crawled out of their vehicles streaked in blood to find a load of chocolate éclairs and cream cakes splattered on leather sofas and office chairs. I don’t want to see anything shocking ever again.” Either the random nature of such details will frustrate or it will be one of the ways by which these ominous, odd, erotic stories burrow deep into your brain.

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Alex Clark, The Guardian

Like their protagonists, these stories do not give up their secrets easily, although they are by no means difficult to understand. But they are powerful because they are fragmentary, elliptical; because they interrupt and disrupt themselves, and refuse to settle down into something immediately recognisable. 

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Lucy Popescu, The Independent on Sunday

Many of her elegantly conceived and executed stories describe break-ups or fleeting encounters. She is a skilled wordsmith and creates an array of intense emotions and moods in precise, controlled prose. In “Placing a Call”, she paints a devastating portrait of loss in just a few brushstrokes: “I am looking into your eyes and I can’t get in. You have changed the locks and I have an old key.”

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Lucy Scholes, The Observer

Black Vodka is a slight volume, but there’s no arguing with the poetry of Levy’s prose. 


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Catherine Taylor, The New Statesman

Levy’s Man Booker Prize-shortlisted novel, Swimming Home, made her one of the most feted literary rediscoveries of the past couple of years … a miniature rendered epic by its scope and profundity. Levy’s use of defiantly short chapters allowed ideas and imagery to startle with their suddenness, hang tantalisingly in the air, then disappear. Such intense allusiveness is also at play in this slim collection. The transient characters who populate Black Vodka have elements of Swimming Home’s two main protagonists. Aspects of the beautiful anorexic Kitty Finch and the émigré poet Joe Jacobs lurk in the kooky, impulsive femmes fatales of these tales, with their male counterparts racked by violent sorrows and haunted by displaced histories.

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