Deborah Levy: ‘I am haunted by Alice’s white rabbit. I think I’ve met him in a London pub'

The playwright, novelist and poet on the cleverness of Muriel Spark, how Marguerite Duras influenced her and why Zora Neale Hurston is underrated

The book I am currently reading
The Soul of the Marionette – A Short Enquiry into Human Freedom by John Gray. An eclectic, enjoyable critique of freedom told via a cultural history of marionettes, religion and science fiction. Emilie Pine’s collection of essays, Notes to Self, is light on its feet and goes in deep – family, class, the ways in which women are scared into silence.

The book that changed my life
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. Not for the so-called magic realism, more for the poetry of everyday life, and the thrill of glimpsing worlds so different from my own. It might have been the first substantial translated novel that I had read.

The book I wish I’d written
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Muriel Spark was so clever to encourage readers to admire Jean Brodie, and then have us discover we were admiring a fascist. It’s a skilful flip in empathy that Spark makes look easy.

The books that influenced my writing
The Lover by Marguerite Duras – her writing is like an intense, intimate conversation about sexual passion, politics, vulnerability and power. Same with nearly all of James Baldwin. The British writer who most influenced my writing is JG Ballard.

The book I think is most underrated
It is my view that Zora Neale Hurston was one of the most important cultural anthropologists of her generation, as well as a brilliant novelist. Her study of African American folklore, Mules and Men, blew my mind, yet no one has ever recommended it to me.

The last book that made me laugh
At last I have caught up with the wit, audacity and pathos of Bernardine Evaristo’s stunning novel Mr Loverman. The first line sets the tone: “Morris is suffering from that affliction known as teetotalism.”

The book I couldn’t finish
The books I can’t finish tend to resolve moral conflicts in unbelievable ways and don’t have enough dimensions to keep me interested.

The book I’m ashamed not to have read
Maybe something by Darwin. I read books that refer to him, but have I ever read his own words? I can see his The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals on my bookshelf. Just the title sounds like my kind of book ... but perhaps I have just browsed it.

My earliest reading memory
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, aged nine. I remember the disappointment of discovering Wonderland was just a dream. I am still haunted by the white rabbit. I think I’ve met him in a pub off the Euston Road in London.

The book I give as a gift
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson – confronting, kind, clever, subversive.

The book I’d like to be remembered for
Forgettable is not really what an author is aiming for – so it’s always the book I’m writing at the time.


Deborah Levy

The GuardianTramp

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