The narrator-protagonist of Deborah Levy’s August Blue, an elite-level concert pianist called Elsa, is going through a difficult time. She recently walked off stage after messing up a Rachmaninoff recital in Vienna. More worryingly, she has just dyed her hair blue. At a market stall in Athens, she becomes entranced by a pair of novelty mechanical horses, but they’re snapped up by another customer with whom she becomes fixated. Elsa keeps noticing ‘the horse woman’ out and about, and starts to think of her as ‘a sort of psychic double’. She is deeply impressed when she sees her smoking a large cigar: ‘It was a poke at life. A provocation.