“In ‘Why I Write’, Orwell entertainingly declared: “All writers are vain, selfish & lazy, & at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.” He divided reasons for soldiering on into “sheer egoism”, “aesthetic enthusiasm”, “historical impulse” & “political purpose”. Like Orwell, Levy is entertaining & makes his categories her chapter headings. But, unlike Orwell, she is not steadily organised. She is a maker not a clearer up of mysteries. And she is fugitive. It is this that gives the book its subtle, unpredictable, surprising atmosphere.”

Things I Don't Want to Know

The opening line hooks one instantly: “That spring when life was hard and I was at war with my lot and simply couldn’t see where there was to get to, I seemed to cry most on escalators at train stations.” She writes about depression, without naming it, in a blackly funny way. She describes directionlessness yet knows where she is going: the essay is immaculately planned. There are many wonderful lines: “When happiness is happening it feels as if nothing else happened before it, it is a sensation that happens only in the present tense.” Or: “A female writer cannot afford to feel her life too clearly. If she does, she will write in a rage when she should write calmly.” Even the coat hangers in an irregular Mallorcan hotel are perfectly described: “four bent wire clothes hangers on the rail, they seemed to mimic the shape of forlorn human shoulders”. Kate Kellaway, The Guardian.

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