And now for a look at the Man Booker shortlist from this year. In Swimming Home two families rent a villa together in the French Riviera for the summer: Laura and Mitchell, a middle-aged couple who own an emporium selling antique weaponry, and Isabel and Joe Jacobs, and their teenage daughter Nina. Isabel is a war correspondent, Joe a famous, and philandering, poet. None of them are happy but rather are resigned to their burdens. In the background are elderly doctor Madeleine Sheridan, German hippy Jurgen, and young Mick Jagger look-alike Claude. Then along comes Kitty Finch, a strange, depressed, raw, beautiful young woman with nowhere to stay. Kitty is a botanist and aspiring poet, and is obsessed with Joe, believing his poetry is a conversation between the two of them. Her appearance at the villa is no coincidence. Kitty has sought Joe out in order for him to read her poem, an encounter that proves to have devastating consequences. For unknown reasons, Isabel invites Kitty to stay in their spare room and over the course of a week, as Kitty’s insidious influence pervades the group, things come unravelled.

Swimming Home opens with a naked Kitty Finch lying in their pool, mimicking a dead body. From the opening I got a feeling of unreality, the sequence was dreamlike and surreal. It reminded me of Sunset Boulevard beginning with William Holden’s Joe Gillis lying dead in the pool, narrating the story of his own death. It had that same haunting, out of place and time, quality. Throughout her stay Kitty is often seen naked at strange times, fuelling the sense of the unreal, showing how she revels in her depression and insanity. Joe has also suffered from depression, spending much of his teens medicated. Kitty uses this to draw Joe in, playing on his insecurities, challenging him to find a reason why life is worth living. But Kitty doesn’t really want to find a reason. She is haunted by visions of an ethereal young boy, but she’s stopped taking her medication because feeling miserable and scared is better than feeling nothing at all. The same hallucinatory quality that touches Deborah Levy’s descriptions of Kitty’s visions bleeds into her descriptions of reality.

Now you’d think a book that explores depression and sorrow would be depressing, and yes it largely is. Swimming Home is depressing but in a way that’s hazy and removed, an alien world. Kitty and Joe aren’t the only ones struggling with their demons. At one point Mitchell imagines shooting Kitty, picturing ‘a bloody hole gouged in her belly.’ Most of the characters are at least a little unsavoury and all appear to be somewhat unhinged. On the surface they seem stable and reasonable but they all seem to secretly despise one another. There is so much hate and bile seething below the surface; marriages are failing, parents are failing to connect with their children and the real world. Some, like Madeleine Sheridan, are struggling to come to terms with becoming old and irrelevant. Levy’s characters are often pretentious and self-involved, and Swimming Home’s focus appeared to be the characters. As I started reading I thought maybe this will be too irritating to bear. Thankfully it wasn’t. The slim, sharp punch of the novel kept it from being so.

Given Swimming Home’s brevity and spare plot Levy’s writing is the centrepiece, and for the most part it’s darkly poetic. But as it’s the centrepiece every sentence stands out. I couldn’t help but notice that Levy doesn’t describe things as what they are in reality but as what they resemble or are vaguely reminiscent of: ‘When she wasn’t stammering and blushing she looked like she’d been sculpted from wax in a dark workshop in Venice’ and ‘The pom-poms on Madeleine Sheridan’s red cape were jumping up and down as if they were the witnesses she referred to.’ There’s nothing really wrong with that, she’s not the only writer to ever use a simile, but the abundance made it feel like Levy was trying to eke poetry out of the everyday, perhaps a little too forcefully.

Swimming Home is sinister, tense and suffocating. Levy was absolutely right when she dubbed her novel ‘a page-turner about sorrow’. The writing, the characters, the plot; all come to together to create a powerful, intriguing novel. It draws you in, but I found it elusive. The dreamlike tenor made me think of characters in a play or puppets, playing out some preordained chain of events, rather than real people living life.