Naked came the stranger—and, oddly, no one’s in much of a hurry to get her clothed.
When Kitty Finch shows up at the door of a famous British poet’s tony vacation getaway in the South of France, she makes quite an impression. She is staggeringly beautiful and, as mentioned, unclothed. And then her eyes—well, “Kitty Finch’s eyes were grey like the tinted windows of Mitchell’s hire car, a Mercedes, parked on the gravel at the front of the villa.” She has skills as a botanist, is a would-be poet herself and has an odd fixation with the poet, who is a bit of an odd duck himself, a collector of bits and pieces of natural history, of bric-a-brac and allusion and especially of people, surrounded by other odd ducks such as a German hippie who “was never exact about anything” and keeps his nose and brain tucked inside Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha most of the time. As South African–born British writer Levy (Ophelia and the Great Idea, 1988, etc.) soon lets us know, Kitty Finch—her name is repeated like a mantra throughout the book—has designs on Joe Jacobs, who doesn’t mind at first, but soon comes to regret the dalliance. Who, after all, wouldn’t be just a little afraid of a girl who can wink with either eye? The bigger question, on which the book turns, is why Joe’s wife, Isabel, allows events to unfold as they do; is this all an experiment for her benefit and interest, too? Levy winds her characters up and watches them go, and they do as most humans do, which is to mess up in the face of desire. Her novel is utterly beautiful and lyrical throughout, even at the most tragic turns (“I have never got a grip on when the past begins or where it ends...as much as I try to make the past keep still and mind its manners, it moves and murmurs with me through every day”).
A shortlisted nominee for the Man Booker Prize, deserving of the widest readership.