Monday, 6 January 2014

Black Vodka by Deborah Levy

cover of Black Vodka by Deborah Levy
The first story that’s grabbed me this year is ‘Shining a Light’ by Deborah Levy, from her excellent collection Black Vodka. It's one of those you read and think huh? when it ends, because, well, what just happened? The events of the story are as follows: a British girl, Alice, goes on holiday to Prague, the airline loses her suitcase, she befriends a group of young Serbs, and goes for a day out with them. And that's it.
But there's a hidden arc, or movement in the story, which starts with the loss of something relatively trivial - Alice’s suitcase – a minor aggravation which means her mobile phone will be unusable because her charger is in the lost bag. We are reminded of this loss as she dances in a park with her new friends “in the blue dress she has worn for three days”, and again when she goes for a swim with them at a lake near Prague and meets Alex “a famous brilliant terrific genius composer of electronic music” who is curiously uninterested in her mobile phone problems. As she waits for him in the woods, feeling panicky in case he’s got lost, both she and the reader understand Alex and her other new friends have suffered far greater losses; their names, possessions, homes, identities, families. “She wonders if there are people hiding in the woods because they have lost their country and their home and their children and their sister and cousin and she thinks Alex might have lost his brother and father because of something he said earlier.”

It’s beautifully and subtly done; a tale obliquely told through objects lost and vivid impressions of a couple of summer days. There is no preaching here. All the stories in this collection are worth lingering over and rereading.

Black Vodka is published by And Other Stories  a small publisher which focuses on work that is "collaborative, imaginative and 'shamelessly literary' ". It relies on subscriptions from readers to continue its work - can you help?

Recommended by Simon Savidge over at Savidge Reads - thankyou!

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