Cover image for The cost of living : a working autobiography
The cost of living : a working autobiography
Levy, Deborah, author.
Personal Author:
Physical Description:
134 pages ; 22 cm.
General Note:
"First published in 2018 in Great Britain by Hamish Hamilton"--Title page verso.
The big silvers -- The tempest -- Nets -- Living in yellow -- Gravity -- The body electric -- The black and bluish darkness -- The republic -- Night wandering -- X is where I am -- Footsteps in the house -- The beginning of everything -- The Milky Way -- Good tidings.
"What does it cost a woman to unsettle old boundaries and collapse social hierarchies that make her a minor character in a world not arranged to her advantage? This vibrant memoir, a portrait of contemporary womanhood in flux, is an urgent quest to find an unwritten major female character who can exist more easily in the world. Levy considers what it means to live with meaning, value, and pleasure, to seize the ultimate freedom of writing our own lives, and reflects on the work of such artists and thinkers as Simone de Beauvoir, James Baldwin, Elena Ferrante, Marguerite Duras, David Lynch, and Emily Dickinson. 'The Cost of Living' is crucial testimony, as distinctive, witty, complex, and original as Levy's acclaimed novels"--Dust jacket.
Personal Subject:


Call Number
Material Type
Cuba Circulating Library Association 1 BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY B LEVY New NonFiction Book

On Order



The bestselling exploration of the dimensions of love, marriage, mourning, and kinship from two-time Booker Prize finalist Deborah Levy.

To strip the wallpaper off the fairy tale of The Family House in which the comfort and happiness of men and children has been the priority is to find behind it an unthanked, unloved, neglected, exhausted woman.

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 does it cost a woman to unsettle old boundaries and collapse the social hierarchies that make her a minor character in a world not arranged to her advantage?

Levy draws on her own experience of attempting to live with pleasure, value, and meaning--the making of a new kind of family home, the challenges of her mother's death--and those of women she meets in everyday life, from a young female traveler reading in a bar who suppresses her own words while she deflects an older man's advances, to a particularly brilliant student, to a kindly and ruthless octogenarian bookseller who offers the author a place to write at a difficult time in her life. The Cost of Living is urgent, essential reading, a crystalline manifesto for turbulent times.

Author Notes

Deborah Levy, FRSL , writes fiction, plays, and poetry. Her work has been staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company, widely broadcast on the BBC, and translated into fourteen languages. The author of highly praised novels, including Hot Milk and Swimming Home (both Man Booker Prize finalists), The Unloved , and Billy and Girl , the story collection Black Vodka , and the essay Things I Don't Want to Know , she lives in London.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

To call it a downgrade would be an understatement. After her marriage ended, Levy moved from the family home, where she had tended to her husband, daughters, and garden, to a grubby apartment building in London, supposedly about to be restored, with unnerving gray hallways reminiscent of The Shining. Levy calls them the Corridors of Love. In this evocative and insightful memoir, Levy describes her new freedom, in all its complexity and drudgery, and examines how society's expectations can define and confine women. She includes slices of life in which she observes interactions between men and women in public at a bar, or on a train that reveal larger truths about the dynamics at play in even temporary relationships and what happens when someone dares to challenge them. As an author and teacher, she regularly relates lessons from literature to her own situation. From her work writing in a freezing garden shed to her adventures coasting through London on an electric bicycle, Levy deftly relates the circumstances of her new life with a bewitching combination of wit and pathos.--Bridget Thoreson Copyright 2018 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

This slim, singular memoir by British playwright and poet Levy (Hot Milk) chronicles a brief period following the ¿shipwreck¿ of the London writer¿s 20-year marriage. Levy, a Booker Prize finalist, moved from a large Victorian home to an apartment with her two young adult daughters, accepted an offer from an octogenarian friend of a small shed in which to write, and began to rebuild her life. In the process, she 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. She is occasionally drawn back to her former life; memories make her long for the past (a sprig of rosemary, for example, makes her think of a garden she once planted in the family house), but don¿t prevent her from moving forward. 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 (about a man she has just met, ¿I objected to my male walking companion never remembering the names of women¿). 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. (July)



The Big Silver   As Orson Welles told us, if we want a happy ending, it depends on where we stop the story. One January night I was eating coconut rice and fish in a bar on Colombia's Caribbean coast. A tanned, tattooed American man sat at the table next to me. He was in his late forties, big muscled arms, his silver hair pinned into a bun. He was talking to a young English woman, perhaps nineteen years old, who had been sitting on her own reading a book, but after some ambivalence had taken up his invitation to join him. At first he did all the talking. After a while she interrupted him. Her conversation was interesting, intense and strange. She was telling him about scuba-diving in Mexico, how she had been underwater for twenty minutes and then surfaced to find there was a storm. The sea had become a whirlpool and she had been anxious about making it back to the boat. Although her story was about surfacing from a dive to discover the weather had changed, it was also about some sort of undisclosed hurt. She gave him a few clues about that (there was someone on the boat who she thought should have come to save her) and then she glanced at him to check if he knew that she was talking about the storm in a disguised way. He was not that interested and managed to move his knees in a way that jolted the table so that her book fell to the floor. He said, 'You talk a lot don't you?' She thought about this, her fingers combing out the ends of her hair while she watched two teenage boys selling cigars and football shirts to tourists in the cobbled square. It was not that easy to convey to him, a man much older than she was, that the world was her world too. He had taken a risk when he invited her to join him at his table. After all, she came with a whole life and libido of her own. It had not occurred to him that she might not consider herself to be the minor character and him the major character. In this sense, she had unsettled a boundary, collapsed a social hierarchy, broken with the usual rituals. She asked him what it was that he was scooping up from his bowl with tortilla chips. He told her it was ceviche, raw fish marinated in lime juice, which was written in the menu in English as sexvice - 'It comes with a condom,' he said. When she smiled, I knew she was making a bid to be someone braver than she felt, someone who could travel freely on her own, read a book and sip a beer alone in a bar at night, someone who could risk an impossibly complicated conversation with a stranger. She took up his offer to taste his ceviche, then dodged his offer to join him for a night swim in an isolated part of the local beach, which, he assured her, was 'away from the rocks'. After a while, he said, 'I don't like scuba-diving. If I had to go down deep, it would be for gold.' 'Oh,' she said. 'It's funny you say that. I was thinking my name for you would be the Big Silver.' 'Why Big Silver?' 'It was the name of the diving boat.' He shook his head, baffled, and moved his gaze from her breasts to the neon sign for Exit on the door. She smiled again, but she didn't mean it. I think she knew she had to calm the turbulence she had brought with her from Mexico to Colombia. She decided to take back her words. 'No, Big Silver because of your hair and the stud above your eyebrow.' 'I'm just a drifter,' he said. 'I drift about.' She paid her bill and asked him to pick up the book he had jolted to the floor, which meant he had to bend down and reach under the table, dragging it towards him with his foot. It took a while, and when he surfaced with the book in his hand, she was neither grateful nor discourteous. She just said, 'Thanks.' While the waitress collected plates heaped with crab claws and fish bones, I was reminded of the Oscar Wilde quote 'Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.' That was not quite true for her. She had to make a bid for a self that possessed freedoms the Big Silver took for granted - after all he had no trouble being himself. You talk a lot don't you? To speak our life as we feel it is a freedom we mostly choose not to take, but it seemed to me that the words she wanted to say were lively inside her, mysterious to herself as much as anyone else. Later, when I was writing on my hotel balcony, I thought about how she had invited the drifting Big Silver to read between the lines of her undisclosed hurt. She could have stopped the story by describing the wonder of all she had seen in the deep calm sea before the storm. That would have been a happy ending, but she did not stop there. She was asking him (and herself ) a question: Do you think I was abandoned by that person on the boat? The Big Silver was the wrong reader for her story, but I thought on balance that she might be the right reader for mine.     Excerpted from The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

1 The Big Silverp. 1
2 The Tempestp. 5
3 Netsp. 11
4 Living in Yellowp. 15
5 Gravityp. 31
6 The Body Electricp. 41
7 The Black and Bluish Darknessp. 55
8 The Republicp. 67
9 Night Wanderingp. 83
10 X Is Where I Amp. 97
11 Footsteps in the Housep. 107
12 The Beginning of Everythingp. 119
13 The Milky Wayp. 127
14 Good Tidingsp. 131

Google Preview