Sofia and her mother arrive in a village on the Spanish coast. Rose is suffering from a strange illness and her doctors are mystified. Her daughter Sofia has brought her here to find a cure with the infamous and controversial Dr Gomez – a man of questionable methods and motives. Intoxicated by thick heat and the seductive people who move through it, both women begin to see their lives clearly for the first time in years.
The heat of a mediterranean summer is captured perfectly — from the dusty roads, hot rocks, and a transparent sea full of toxic jelly fish (medusas). Admittedly, I read this a couple of weeks ago when temperatures here were in the 30’s which meant I didn’t have to try very hard to imagine searing heat and burning skin. Hot Milk is a book to be read in the summer — and will be one of those books I think of in the future when I’m considering something to read in the summertime. Incidentally, Swimming Home by Deborah Levy, the other one of hers I’ve read, is also a Summertime book.
“Rose sat limp at the wheel of the hire car, while I washed the dust of the windows with a cloth. It was 11am and the sun was already burning my neck”
The relationship between Rose and Sofia is often perplexing. Sofia tries to makes sense of the woman who, for so long, has ruled her life. She describes herself as a “sleuth” for forever trying to uncover who her mother is. She has a half-finished Phd and works as a barista in a coffee shop. Sophia has always sacrificed to look after her mother Rose while staying ever hopeful in finding a cure for Rose’s mysterious illness. Rose in turn can be cruel, delighting in belittling Sofia and the life she has.
“‘My daughter is wasting her life,’, Rose replied. Sofia is plump and idle and she is living off her mother at quite an advanced age.’”
There is a deep connection between them in that Sofia experiences what Rose experiences. Rose is young and strong, yet takes on the limp her own mother had exhibited. Sofia, in turn, seeks to understand Rose, inadvertently making discoveries about herself. Needs and desires within her, which previously simmered, erupt as she becomes obsessed with the statuesque German Ingrid who embroiders clothing for a living.
Hot Milk is a book full of symbolism; it’s cleverly written in its complexity which is I’m sure serves to create its hypnotic qualities. If I’m honest, I didn’t always get it — which is why I think I have struggled to review it. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. I did. I’m just not sure I have completely understood it. I should say the fault is mine, not Deborah Levy’s.
About Deborah Levy
Deborah Levy writes fiction, plays, and poetry. Her work has been staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and she is the author of highly praised books including The Unloved, Swallowing Geography, and Beautiful Mutants. // Visit Website