This is a dreamy, slightly decadent, shaggy dog story sort of book, with a heroine who has a sad/romantic past and a present that just sort of drifts along. She has an odd obsession with a stranger who appears from time to time just out of reach, and that doppelganger adds just the right dash of disorientation to the tale. This is the fascinating sort of book that demands, or at least playfully encourages, you to pull out your metaphor shovel and get to work. Given the heroine's life arc, is this a fanciful reimagining of events in the life of Sergie Rachmaninoff? After all, he is practically a character in the book. Is it all an extended commentary on the Covid pandemic? Is it about self-actualization, the escape from the strictures imposed on the prodigy, professional musicianship generally, the creation of art, the loss of innocence, the nature of biological versus found family, grief? Maybe. You could start at the title and look for Henry Scott Tuke's painting, "August Blue", and look for clues. Is the mechanical horse mechanism that appears all throughout the book as the heroine's personal "Rosebud" the key to it all? I think probably. But what I think doesn't matter. You should try this puzzle box of a book and come up with your own ideas.
August Blue by Deborah Levy is a haunting and mesmerizing novel about Elsa M. Anderson, a former child prodigy and piano virtuoso who walks off the stage in Vienna at the height of her career. She finds herself in Athens, where she sees a woman who looks remarkably like her buying mechanical dancing horses at a flea market. Elsa becomes obsessed with the horses and follows the woman across Europe.
As Elsa travels, she is forced to confront her past and her identity. She is haunted by the memory of her mother, who pushed her to become a pianist, and by the pressure and expectations that come with being a child prodigy. The novel is a powerful exploration of the ways in which we try to rewrite our stories and make ourselves anew.
Deborah Levy's writing is stunning, evocative, and poetic. She creates a vivid and richly detailed world that captures the beauty and melancholy of Elsa's journey. The characters are complex and nuanced, and their relationships are fraught with tension and longing.
August Blue is a deeply affecting novel that will stay with readers long after they finish reading. It's a story about identity, memory, and the ways in which we try to escape our past and create new futures. Levy's prose is lyrical and haunting, and her exploration of the human psyche is both insightful and profound. This is a novel that will appeal to anyone who loves literary fiction and is looking for a deeply rewarding reading experience.
I loved this book. There were elements that I couldn't totally grasp, but overall I love the characters and the relationship between the main character and the supporting.
The publisher's blurb for this book is spot on. . . A dazzling portrait of melancholy and metamorphosis. It really cannot be improved upon.
That admitted by preface, I add my recommendation to readers who are seeking a connection with a tale about changing, extricating oneself from self-made quicksand, discovery of truths forgotten, lies that refuse to release their grip, and freedoms uncaged. It is an attractively messy tale that refuses to close all loops, leaves bows untied and questions lying about unanswered and actually rather unconcerned about it all.
Delicious and vibrant, and a bonus for all those pianists and lovers of classical music mentions. And double bonus? A trilby hat. Who doesn't love that?
*A sincere thank you to Deborah Levy, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and NetGalley for an ARC to read and independently review.*
My third novel from Levy, and a typically confounding one. The facts are simple enough: Elsa M. Anderson is a pianist who has had something of a breakdown. She retreats from giving concerts, dyes her hair blue, and bounces between European capitals in the later days of the pandemic, giving music lessons and caring for her mentor and adoptive father, Arthur, who’s dying on Sardinia. In between there are laughs and lovers, searching and sadness, all muffled by Elsa’s (Levy’s) matter-of-factness. Meanwhile, there’s a touch of the uncanny in the doppelganger Elsa keeps seeing. First, her double buys the carousel horses she had her eye on in Athens. Then Elsa steals her twin’s trilby hat. There’s a confrontation late on but it doesn’t seem to make much difference. The doubling appears to be a way of making literal the adopted Elsa’s divided self. I’m not entirely sure what to say about this one. I enjoyed reading it well enough. Though I never felt compelled to pick it up, when I did I easily got through several chapters at a time. But I’m not convinced it meant much.
I simply love Levy’s writing and might aim to become a completist in the coming years. The way she creates an almost hypnotic tone and fills her stories with rich, unusual imagery is incredibly captivating—and made more so by the development of stories I find extremely engrossing. August Blue is the story of a piano virtuoso named Elsa who, after a disastrous performance in Vienna, winds up traveling around Europe tutoring various young pianists. While in Athens, Elsa encounters a woman who purchases the items Elsa had just been coveting, an act that links the two women (possible doppelgängers even?) over the course of this story of self-discovery. I loved everything about this book, but perhaps most profound was its exploration of the way the pandemic rattled so many people’s sense of self and purpose. Without being overblown or heavy-handed, and through an entirely unique storyline, Levy captured so much of what I have felt during these last unstable years. It’s a book I hope to return to again and know I’ll get even more out of a second read.
If you loved The Man Who Saw Everything and hoped this would be similar, I think this won't quite hit the spot. Without the comparison I think I'd have liked this a bit more - Levy's writing i beautiful, flowing, and if you like books that are more vibes than plot, that take you to places and feelings and experiences, you'll really like this!
A complete bore.
I was bored the entire time but this was relatively short so I pushed through. I can't recount what happened because it was so boring that my brain refuses to give it any space in my memory.
Every time I read Deborah Levy, I ask myself why I'm not a completist. Most recently, I loved her memoir trilogy, but I've loved her fiction for years. #AugustBlue is a curious, slim novel about music and friendship and obsession and a pandemic (and honestly a lot more.) I read this novel compulsively in a day. There's an energy to it and its main character, Elsa. I've waited to review it because I still don't know quite what I think. I liked it. It's a solid 4 star read. It's ambitious but confident. It's also challenging in some ways. This novel has lived rent free in my mind since I finished it.
"It occurred to me that what I had transmitted to her, across four countries, was pain. We were all striding out into the world once again to infect and be infected by each other. If she was my double and I was hers, was it true that she was knowing, I was unknowing, she was sane, I was crazy, she was wise, I was foolish? The air was electric between us, the way we transmitted our feelings to each other as they flowed through our arms, which were touching. We agreed that whatever happened next in the world, we would still rub conditioner into our hair after we washed it and comb it through to the ends, we would soften our lips with rose-, strawberry-and cherryscented balm, and though we would be interested to see a wolf perched in a lonely mountain, we liked our household animals to betray their savage nature and live with us in our reality, which was not theirs. They would lie in our laps and let us stroke them through waves of virus, wars, drought and floods and we would try not to transmit our fear to them."
The writing is lush and beautiful.
This was somehow my introduction to the decades-long career of Deborah Levy, and it was so good, I am going to compulsively reach for her entire backlist. Not much happens, plot-wise, but it gave me a lot of thoughts.
Deborah Levy’s newest novel, August Blue, will appeal to readers who gravitate towards atmospheric and character-driven novels. Levy’s writing is introspective, dreamy (sometimes verging on the surreal), and chock full of metaphors and references to other artists. I loved its premise – Elsa, a 34 year old concert pianist, drifts somewhat aimlessly through Europe teaching piano lessons after experiencing a public professional humiliation and, in the course of her travels, believes that she has spotted her double shadowing her.
I won’t lie— some of this book went over my head and the vibes to plot ratio of August Blue was a bit too high for me. I nevertheless enjoyed the experience of reading this short novel, especially Levy’s reflections on identity and family (in the latter case, largely centered around Arthur, the now 80-year old piano prodigy who adopted and coached Elsa as a child). It’s also worth noting that this book takes place during the pandemic (which surprisingly didn’t detract from my reading experience).
This was my first Deborah Levy novel and I look forward to reading more of her work. Thank you to FSG and Netgalley for the ARC – August Blue is out now.
Ms. Levy has a calm approach to writing and storytelling that I am drawn to. That, coupled with a(n at least partial) setting in Greece means this was a win for me.
This one gave me “TAR” vibes right out of the gate. A piano prodigy who is suddenly cast out of public favor has to find a new sense of self, while trying to understand an identity that’s been buried deep within. Elsa M. Anderson was plucked from a foster home by a piano maestro and trained to become a world-class pianist.
When a performance in Vienna goes spontaneously awry, Anderson seeks a departure from her former self: dyeing her hair blue and traveling around the world giving lessons to other fledging musicians. Through these travels, she continues to see a woman she deems her “double.” But is that woman real or a figment of her imagination?
Levy did a wonderful job crafting this story, and I thought the writing was well done. It didn’t grab me as much as I would have liked but I’m curious to read Levy’s other work to see how it compares!
Thanks to NetGalley and FSG for the ARC!
August Blue, written by Deborah Levy, is a captivating and emotionally powerful novel that delves deep into the complexities of personal identity and self-exploration. The protagonist, Elsa, a talented concert pianist, embarks on a journey throughout Europe while being shadowed by her doppelgänger. The novel raises questions about the nature of identity and the various factors that influence and shape how we view ourselves and our place in the world.
Music holds a significant place in August Blue, serving as an integral part of Elsa’s life and journey of self-discovery. Levy examines the relationship between art and life, and how art can help us make sense of our experiences and emotions. Reflecting on her own experiences, Elsa’s connection to music also undergoes a transformation. She has a better understanding of herself and, by the end of the novel, she emerges as a different person.
As the narrative unfolds, it becomes evident that the pandemic is a significant part of the story. Levy explores how Elsa is coping with the pandemic, highlighting the ways in which it affects not only her life but also the lives of those around her. Isolation, uncertainty, economic adversity, anxiety, and depression are constant themes throughout the story.
I loved Levy’s insightful storytelling, intensity, and vivid imagery, as well as her ability to delve into the depths of the human experience. It is because of this quest for self-discovery and the exploration of the many facets of identity that August Blue is such a compelling reading.
August Blue by Deborah Levy is a hauntingly beautiful novel that tells the story of Elsa M. Anderson, a former child prodigy pianist who abruptly walks off the stage during a performance. Set in Vienna and Athens, the novel follows Elsa as she embarks on a journey across Europe, trying to escape her past and her talent.
The novel is a powerful portrait of a woman’s struggle to come to terms with her identity and her past. Levy’s writing is poetic and evocative, capturing the emotions and experiences of her protagonist in a deeply moving way. The novel is filled with rich description and vivid imagery, creating a sense of place that is both enchanting and melancholic.
At the heart of the novel is the idea of revision and metamorphosis. Elsa is constantly trying to reinvent herself, to escape the expectations of her talent and her history. Throughout the novel, she encounters an elusive woman who seems to be her double, and this encounter becomes a catalyst for Elsa’s own self-discovery.
Overall, August Blue is a stunning work of literary fiction that explores themes of identity, memory, and transformation. Levy’s writing is masterful, and the novel is an unforgettable journey through the landscapes of the human heart. Highly recommended for fans of contemplative, character-driven fiction.
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on June 6, 2023
As a foster child, Ann Anderson was adopted by Arthur Goldstein, a famous piano teacher who lived near London. She has always refused to read her adoption file and does not know the identity of her biological parents. Arthur changed her first name to Elsa (her middle name is Miracle) and trained her until she attained critical acclaim as a concert pianist.
After dying her hair blue, Elsa messed up while playing Rachmaninov during a concert in Vienna. For two minutes and twelve seconds (a time frame that recurs throughout the novel), Elsa played something that was in her mind, not on the sheet music, something that one listener regarded as remarkable. Elsa then walked off the stage and fled to Greece, where the novel begins.
A woman who looks very much like Elsa purchases some small mechanical horses that Elsa wanted to buy. Elsa seems to have stolen the woman’s hat. Elsa believes she saw the same woman in London. She sees her again in Paris. The woman throws her cigar into Elsa’s drink and runs away. Elsa regards the woman as her psychic double. Could it be that Elsa is seeing herself? Is she seeing the mother who gave her up for adoption? Elsa doesn’t smoke cigars but a student tells her that she smells like cigar smoke. Maybe an English lit professor will read the book and explain it to me.
Elsa gives piano lessons to rich kids during the pandemic as she contemplates whether her career is over. She almost makes love in Greece with a man named Tomas but ultimately pushes him away. Elsa teaches piano to a mentally fragile girl of sixteen in Paris, returns to London, and finally reunites with Arthur on his deathbed in Sardinia, where he is being attended by a longtime friend who has always disliked Elsa. She finds the answers to some of her questions in Sardinia but realizes that her piano teacher has always given her the answers she needs.
While Elsa’s questions are to some extent answered, the reader’s are not. Elsa meets her doppelganger again — they chat and smoke cigars — but the woman’s identity remains a mystery. Elsa comes to wonder whether the woman is her opposite: knowing, sane, and wise, while Elsa is unknowing, crazy, and foolish. Yet they enjoy the same lip balm and both love pets. Whether the woman is real or imagined is presumably unimportant; her role is to force Elsa to think about who she is and who she might become.
I like Deborah Levy’s use of repeating rhythms in her prose, a technique that makes sense in the story of a musician. I like her riff on Montaigne’s “Ignorance is the softest pillow on which a man may lay his head.” Elsa would prefer the comfort of ignorance (as do so many people who live in an alternate, fact-free reality), but she forces herself to confront truth before the novel ends. Just what that truth might be is a bit ambiguous, but at least she’s moving toward it. While the novel’s ambiguity is a bit much for me, the story is interesting and Levy’s prose is seductive.
For sure, I enjoyed Deborah Levy’s newest novel. But that’s the only thing I’m sure about when it comes to "August Blue."
Levy’s short tale is for those who love classical music, as it follows a piano virtuoso by the name of Elsa M. Anderson. After botching a performance of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in Vienna, Elsa sees her double, a doppelganger, buying mechanical horses at a market in Athens. The encounter sets off a journey across Europe where Elsa continues to cross paths with the mysterious woman at the oddest of times.
Is Elsa mad and hallucinating? Depressed? Or is her relay of the events accurate? The story is so dreamlike in its telling, so blurred and fuzzy that it could be all, one, some, or none of the above. (I have thoughts, of course. I’m just unable to share them here.)
Be assured that Levy’s obscurity is intentional. She wants readers to draw their own conclusion, to interpret the story in an individual way. And I liked the novel for this reason – it’s refreshing to not always have my hand held while reading.
There’s a lot about "August Blue" that went over my head, though. The metaphors – I know I didn’t catch them all. But I caught enough to know that Levy’s latest is an intelligent work of fiction. Her prose is spare and lovely, every sentence purposeful, every word chosen with care.
No matter that I have lingering questions. That’s what rereads are for.
My sincerest appreciation to Deborah Levy, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and NetGalley for the digital review copy. All opinions included herein are my own.
𝑰 𝒇𝒆𝒍𝒕 𝒔𝒉𝒆 𝒉𝒂𝒅 𝒔𝒕𝒐𝒍𝒆𝒏 𝒔𝒐𝒎𝒆𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒇𝒓𝒐𝒎 𝒎𝒆, 𝒔𝒐𝒎𝒆𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝑰 𝒘𝒐𝒖𝒍𝒅 𝒎𝒊𝒔𝒔 𝒊𝒏 𝒎𝒚 𝒍𝒊𝒇𝒆.
Elsa M. Anderson is a piano virtuoso, a former child prodigy whose foster parents ‘gifted her’ at age six to Arthur Goldstein so he could adopt her and make her a resident pupil at his music school. Success followed, international prizes, Carnegie Hall, work under the greatest conductors, until she ruined it all on stage at the Golden Hall in Vienna. Her life of great acclaim has left her at thirty-four, childless and without any lovers waiting in the wings. He taught her she was the instrument, not the piano. A miracle, even! What happens when the miracle falls apart at the height of her career? The reader learns that she walked off the stage in Vienna, an event she dyed her hair blue for (interesting choice, to my mind, women often make drastic hair changes to express themselves emotionally, something we can control) and then she lost her nerve, had a breakdown of sorts. Arthur had told her in the aftermath that “𝑦𝑜𝑢 𝑤𝑒𝑟𝑒 𝑛𝑜𝑡 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑟𝑒 𝑤ℎ𝑒𝑛 𝑦𝑜𝑢 𝑤𝑎𝑙𝑘𝑒𝑑 𝑜𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑠𝑡𝑎𝑔𝑒. 𝑊ℎ𝑒𝑟𝑒 𝑤𝑒𝑟𝑒 𝑦𝑜𝑢, 𝐸𝑙𝑠𝑎?”. She has lost herself. She is making mistakes that a miracle would never make, and her job now is teaching young, generally untalented, children music around EuropeI It is a way disappearing. The blue hair, she says, is also a separation from her DNA. A “severing” from her unknown parents. Certainly, there is something loaded with meaning here. There is self-sabotage.
Is Arthur to blame for teaching Elsa at such a young age to detach her mind from commonplace things? Did she detach from her own emotions? Is it possible that a person should never be swallowed entirely by anything exclusively, prodigy or not? Arthur has been her only father, her entire identity has been as a piano virtuoso, but who else is she beyond a musical genius? She doesn’t know.
In Greece for the purpose of working with a thirteen-year-old pupil, she sees a woman at a stall in Athens buying two mechanical dancing horses she wanted for herself. The seller tells her the customer knew she wanted them but was there first and therefore bought them both, leaving Elsa empty-handed. Following the woman, she finds she left behind her trilby hat which Elsa takes, seems only fair. It is also when she decides that she will think of the familiar woman as her double, the stranger who she feels stole something from her. She goes so far as to have conversations with the stranger in her head. They are one in the same, or are they? I find that ‘she feels she stole something from her’ telling, for numerous reasons. Elsa has blown up her own career, Arthur has taken from her too, though, hasn’t he? In a sense, he is her master, she is his creation. She may well have repressed how she feels about this dynamic, about him, her foster parents and about her birth parents. Why make a statement at all, with the blue hair, against the unknown parents if they don’t matter at all? The Isadora Duncan belief about freedom of expression is a rich insight too, has Arthur given Elsa such freedom? Why is she so lonely, why can’t she find the language in music to express herself, what is holding her back?
Her mind is spinning slowly backwards, rummaging through memories of the past. The pandemic is ongoing, which was enough to rock many of the people worldwide into a strange state of being, and she is already unmoored. The woman is wiser than her, what she is projecting unto her at least. There are connections and signs everywhere, but she is actively looking for them too. Her student, Marcus, has similarities to her , wishing to get away from his father, just as Arthur took her away from a humble life but also wishing to choose for himself. Was Elsa’s act of walking off the stage the first time she had true power? With Arthur ailing and all that follows, is this why it is vital she figures out who she is with and without him (the music).
There is a lot to unpack in this smart novel. I am sure I lost the trail a dozen times over. I enjoy the use of a double, a stronger, wiser version of who she wishes to be, is she getting there, to becoming that person? Is she trying to merge with her into one person? There is something in her refusing to ‘plunge a fork into my life and look at it too closely’, what is she protecting herself from? These two women keep playing tag throughout Europe with strange encounters. Of the mystery woman she says, “𝑇𝑜 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑛𝑘 𝑎𝑏𝑜𝑢𝑡 ℎ𝑒𝑟 𝑤𝑎𝑠 𝑡𝑜 𝑠𝑝𝑒𝑎𝑘 𝑡𝑜 𝑠𝑜𝑚𝑒𝑜𝑛𝑒 𝑘𝑛𝑜𝑤𝑛, 𝑖𝑛𝑠𝑖𝑑𝑒 𝑚𝑦𝑠𝑒𝑙𝑓, 𝑠𝑜𝑚𝑒𝑜𝑛𝑒 𝑤ℎ𝑜 𝑤𝑎𝑠 𝑠𝑙𝑖𝑔ℎ𝑡𝑙𝑦 𝑚𝑦𝑠𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑖𝑜𝑢𝑠 𝑡𝑜 𝑚𝑒…” Identity is a trial at different points in most of our lives, if we reflect at all. I’m still scratching my head, I am like Elsa, chasing the characters trying to figure what is happening. Is this a shattered, fractured self or is there something more?
Engaging, at times playful, always mysterious.
Publication Date: June 6, 2023 Available Now
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
This book was so unique! Set in various places in Europe but the main reason I requested it is because the journey started in Greece. The chapters are short and organized in small vignettes. Even though there isn't a lot going on, I was hooked and super intrigued to see where this was going. I really liked Elsa's character and thought the writing was very well done!