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Hot Milk (2016)
by Deborah Levy
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At the times the book felt overwritten and ungrounded, but it's essentially about a failure-to-launch woman who spends much of her life taking care of her mother who has this mysterious ailment that feels very psychosomatic. They go off to see this doctor who may or may not be a charlatan, and the daughter, our main character, Sofia starts to get her own life. She has a romance with a woman, she goes back to visit the father who abandoned her, and she comes back to deal with her mother once and for all. The mystery of the disease is what really carried me through on this story and once Sofia went to visit her father, I was all in and the pace picked up quite nicely. The twisty, uncertain ending was fun and gave this book a lot of reread potential for me.
This review is going to be the most biased review ever. Loved.this.book.
Some caveats. This book totally spoke to me because it was about a young woman, Sofia, who is the child of divorced parents. Her father has moved back to his home country of Greece and remarried a much younger woman. Sofia is left to deal with her mother, Rose, who acts like an invalid, insisting she cannot walk.
In a last gasp attempt to find someone who can heal Sofia's mother, Rose, the pair head to Spain where Rose becomes a patient of Dr. Gomez. Sofia's life takes a new turn in Spain, and Dr. Gomez's clinic ends up impacting Sofia as much as it does Rose.
As a child of divorce myself, whose father moved far away and also remarried a much younger woman, this book spoke to me on so many levels. Sofia struggles to gain control of her own life, to create separation from her parents, to find her own identity. She behaves in ways that to me are so understandable, but to other readers may seem unwise or at least emotionally risky. Sofia's whole being is compromised by her parents, and this book reveals her character and her struggles in a very slow way, almost like a smoldering volcano that you know is going to erupt, but will it be in an explosion, or it will be simply ooze the hot lava over the top scalding everything in its way?
It's easy for me to imagine readers who won't like this book . . .most men, people who don't like symbolism, people who need to love the characters, etc. But, it's a shame because I thought this was original and masterful.
I love Levy's living autobiography, of which three installments have been published: [Things I Don't Want to Know], [The Cost of Living], and [Real Estate]. The first one started out as a response to George Orwell's essay [Why I Write]. Anyway, she kept going, and each installment is worth the read. She is a fascinating person, so very different from myself, and I like the way she thinks about things. Reading this one, I noted she puts a lot of herself into her this book. I liked it, but I can see why it wouldn't work for everyone. It's hard to describe this one - like a screwball comedy but without the comedy. The setting is Spain, and I do feel like I have been to the beaches of Spain, so she does a good job with establishing sense of place. I also thought she did an excellent job of conveying the friction laden landscape of an adult mother/daughter relationship where the daughter is caring for her mother, and the mother is not making it easy.
The reader becomes as unsettled as Sofia through Levy's provocative, seemingly haphazard mixing up of tenses, occasional blurring of points of view; grammar necessarily shatters when Rose and Sofia gaze newly at each other, try to break old patterns of misunderstanding, to speak truthfully. The difficult, ambivalent, precious mother-daughter relationship forms the core of this beautiful, clever novel.
Hot Milk is a powerful novel of the interior life, which Levy creates with a vividness that recalls Virginia Woolf. The sense of Sofia’s life with her mother (or against her mother) is built through an accumulation of detail, a constellation of symbols and narrative bursts. But like a medusa, this novel has a transfixing gaze and a terrible sting that burns long after the final page is turned.
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Wikipedia in English (1)
"I have been sleuthing my mother's symptoms for as long as I can remember. If I see myself as an unwilling detective with a desire for justice, is her illness an unsolved crime? If so, who is the villain and who is the victim? Sofia, a young anthropologist, has spent much of her life trying to solve the mystery of her mother's unexplainable illness. She is frustrated with Rose and her constant complaints, but utterly relieved to be called to abandon her own disappointing fledgling adult life. She and her mother travel to the searing, arid coast of southern Spain to see a famous consultant--their very last chance--in the hope that he might cure her unpredictable limb paralysis. But Dr. Gomez has strange methods that seem to have little to do with physical medicine, and as the treatment progresses, Sofia's mother's illness becomes increasingly baffling. Sophia's role as detective--tracking her mother's symptoms in an attempt to find the secret motivation for her pain--deepens as she discovers her own desires in this transient desert community. Hot Milk is a profound exploration of the sting of sexuality, of unspoken female rage, of myth and modernity, the lure of hypochondria and big pharma, and, above all, the value of experimenting with life; of being curious, bewildered, and vitally alive to the world"--
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)823.914Literature English & Old English literatures English fiction Modern Period 1901-1999 1945-1999
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I could not get into this book at all. It's a litany of various relationships Sofia has with women, men, the doctor, the nurse, her mother, her father and her step-mother, with continual false starts. Just as you think Levy is about to take Sofia somewhere, somebody walks into the scene, distracts matters, the plot is derailed and the reader left dangling again. Levy forces the issue at the end and opts for a melodramatic finish, but there is still so much left unresolved that the reader can only be left unsatisfied.