Real Estate: Living Autobiography 3

Deborah Levy

Real Estate: Living Autobiography 3
Penguin Books Ltd
United Kingdom
18 May 2021

Real Estate: Living Autobiography 3

Deborah Levy

Fearless and essential - the highly anticipated final instalment in Deborah Levy’s critically acclaimed ‘Living Autobiography’

Following the international critical and commercial success of The Cost of Living, this final volume of Levy’s ‘Living Autobiography’ is an exhilarating, thought-provoking and boldly intimate meditation on home and the spectres that haunt it. It resumes and expands Levy’s pioneering examination of a female life lived in the storm of the present tense, asking essential questions about womanhood, modernity, creative identity and personal freedom.

From one of the great thinkers and writers of our time, Real Estate is a memoir and a manifesto for radical emancipation - as an artist, as a woman, and as an inheritor of the real estate of the now.


Deborah Levy sits at the top of my list of brilliant women I’d like to have a few drinks with. I imagine we’d sit in a smart London bar, martinis in hand, and across several hours she’d reveal to me how her magnificent brain works. I think we’d have a lot to talk about. One of her favourite filmmakers is Pedro Almodóvar; same. She worships Virginia Woolf; so do I. She takes pleasure in cooking and eating. Yes, Deborah, me too.

But the chances of this fantasy becoming reality are slim, and so I must be content with getting to know Levy through her words. Real Estate, the third and final volume of her ‘living autobiography’ (following Things I Don’t Want to Know and The Cost of Living) finds Levy turning 60 and her youngest daughter leaving home for university. Levy writes so well about women who break away to create new narratives and take shape as lead protagonists in their own stories. As her nest empties out, Levy is morphing again. The idea of ‘real estate’ preoccupies her: actual buildings, including her North London flat in a crumbling block and her dream of a more lavish abode by the sea shaded by a pomegranate tree. But also symbolic, unreal structures. Extending Woolf’s room of one’s own allows Levy to investigate the spaces women are allowed to occupy and possess, separate from patriarchal demands.

Real Estate is more than a memoir; it’s a re-evaluation of what it means to write about the self. Levy’s voice is intimate, formal and always surprising; her style philosophical, funny and incredibly sensual. ‘What’s the point of writing if nothing is felt?’ I recently heard Levy pose this in conversation with the Norwegian writer Linn Ullmann. Indeed, Levy’s writing is always full of strong feelings. If Levy’s books are her real estate, she has built herself – and her guests – a rather splendid palace. Getting to know Levy, I also feel like I’m getting to know myself. What a rich gift her living autobiography is.

Joanna Di Mattia is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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