“My love for my mother is like an axe. It cuts very deep.”
Deborah Levy is the current bookies favourite for the Man Booker prize (wonder how many of them have actually read it?) She is the most established author on the list and was previously shortlisted in 2012 for “Swimming Home.” “Hot Milk” is my first introduction to her work.
I can sense the sunshine in this book. Sofia, a procrastinating Ph.D student currently working in a coffee shop travels with her mother, Rose, to Almeria in Southern Spain. Rose is seeking private medical treatment for a condition which intermittently causes mobility problems. The unorthodox Doctor Gomez and his daughter, a nurse, take control of Rose leaving time for Sofia to ponder on her life and dabble with holiday romances. There are days on the beach, somewhat treacherous waters and the hot, arid atmosphere comes through clearly. In fact, there’s something of the feverishness of sunstroke (or jelly fish stings) throughout the whole book. Gomez’ approach to Rose, his desert-set clinic have an unrealness about them and both Sofia and her mother exist in a blur of confusion.
It is also a novel about shields. Sofia uses her mother as a shield to stop her getting on with her life and Rosa uses her disability in much the same way. Rosa is never going to be happy following the doctor’s advice, although Sofia, who is not the patient, does. Midway through there is a trip to Greece for Sofia to reunite with the father she has not seen for years but I found myself missing the Almeria environment and characters during this time.
I was certainly drawn in by the quality of the author’s prose and found Sofia to be a fascinating character. The title implies something comforting, even soporific. I’m not totally clear as to the relevance of the title, unless it refers to breast milk used a symbol of the pull between mother and offspring. I do think this would be a perfect book for reading group discussion and would not be too surprised to see it win the Man Booker. With one book left to read, however, I’m still championing “His Bloody Project.”
Hot Milk was published by Hamish Hamilton in March 2016