Book Review: Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

Hot Milk is the second book I have read in the last few weeks about the complexity of the mother daughter relationship. (The first was My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout) It is also the second novel I have ever read by Deborah Levy.

Sofia and her mother arrive in a village on the Spanish coast. Rose is suffering from a strange illness andher 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 The 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  summer books.  Incidentally, Swimming home by Deborah Levy, the other one of hers I’ve read is also one of those books.

“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 has ruled her life for so long.  She describes her self as a ‘sleuth’ forever trying to uncover who her mother is.  She has a half finished  Phd and works as a barista in a coffee shop, always sacrificing  to  look after Rose, ever hopeful of 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 so that Sofia experiences what Rose experiences.  Rose is young and strong and yet takes on the limp her mother exhibits. Sofia seeks to understand her mother and in turns makes, discoveries about her self.   Needs and desires within her which previously simmered, erupt as she becomes obsessed with the  statuesque German Ingrid who embroiders clothes for a living.

Hot Milk is a book full of symbolism, it is clever and complex which is I’m sure serves to create it’s 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 completely sure I always understood it.  I should say the fault is mine, and not Deborah Levy’s.

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