An Amorous Discourse in the Suburbs of Hell by Deborah Levy
25th Nov 2014
It may be small, but An Amorous Discourse is highly enjoyable read, asking philosophical questions about our desires and infusing them with humour, laughing at the mundanity of modern life.
The poem – for it is a single poem, split into two parts, rather than a collection – takes the form of a conversation between an angel – “she” – and an accountant – “He”, also referred to sometimes as “Stanley.” The juxtaposition of their characters is the root of much of the humour; the angel’s burning wings and lips of mist make poor Stanley’s humble hopes for a little garden and his pride at having made his own shelves seem ludicrous.
Where the angel pulls the whole world into her words – language, philosophy, nature, God – the accountant has only clichéd dreams of white Christmases and a quiet family life, where living dangerously is doing thirty in a twenty speed limit, despite the angel’s calls for him to “unlock your front door” and ‘”take off your shoes.”
Where the angel pulls the whole world into her words – language, philosophy, nature, God – the accountant has only clichéd dreams of white Christmases and a quiet family life, where living dangerously is doing thirty in a twenty speed limit, despite the angel’s calls for him to "unlock your front door" and ‘"take off your shoes."This theme of risk aversion and a fear of our true desires follows on from similar themes in Swimming Home. The angel really nails it when she says, “die die die of safety,” for she knows it is better to be unsure about who we are and what we want, to allow ourselves to change our minds and not have to decide, because it is this discontent which keeps us alive and vital.
An Amorous Discourse in the Suburbs of Hell was first published in 1990 by Jonathan Cape, but it has been revised and updated for this new edition, made obvious by the references to Bluetooth, Google and smart phones. The poem does not feel tampered with or like it has been made current for the sake of it. The modern references fit well with the humour and the themes are as fresh now as they were in 1990 – or indeed in 384 – 322 BC (the angel is a fan of Aristotle).
As well as a poet, Deborah Levy is a playwright, novelist, short story writer and essayist, and her multi-layered talents shine through An Amorous Discourse with sharp characterisation and witty dialogue. This book may be small, but it punches above its weight and will not diminish on repeated readings.