These last couple of months have seen me huddled under a blanket for most of my reading, a cup of steaming tea beside me and quite often a hot water bottle as an extra companion, so it was with delight I opened the new Deborah Levy to find that I was off to a part of Spain so hot it is almost desert like. I have enjoyed Levy’s previous fiction, ‘Swimming Home’, and as readers of Dog Eared will know I was completely beguiled with her book of poetry ‘An Amorous Discourse on the Suburbs of Hell’, so I happily sat down to tuck into this new offering of fiction from her.
At first I thought the central relationship of this novel was going to be that of our protagonist Sofia and her mother, but the more I read I questioned as to whether it is actually between Sofia and herself. Having recently remortgaged her flat to fund this trip to Spain, a lot is riding on it. The reason for such drastic action, well, that would be Sofia’s mother Rose. After many years of suffering from an undiagnosed illness that often leaves her lower legs paralysed, Sofia has discovered a new clinic in Spain that she hopes will find the root of the problem with her mothers health.
The pair stay in a shared apartment and you can feel how stifling this relationship is, the tension as the daughter can never satisfy her mothers constant demands and the intense heat beating down on the white washed walls, as a reader you sit in tension waiting for something to break. It quickly becomes apparent that Sofia’s life so far has been consumed by caring for and trying to please her mother, who has became dependent on her since the breakdown of her marriage, to the point where Sofia absorbs some of her mothers behaviour – subconsciously mimicking her heavy limp. As the days pass by in their new residence by the sea some chance encounters lead to Sofia throwing herself into what can be described for the first time as her own life, rather than living in the shadow of her mothers. Between taking Rose to her weekly appointments to see a consultant who has a questionable treatment style, Sofia starts to explore her own wants and needs, all in the raw way we have seen Levy address topics such as sexuality and self in previous work.
Eventually the very origin of this trip causes the reader to doubt as we wonder if Rose is actually dealing with more psychosomatic problems, and as this dawns on Sofia she takes action that forces an answer in a most shocking way from her mother. This is an intense read, you feel saturated in their story and Levy’s prose is heady. Sofia appeared to me to be in a state of flux, her father has written her out of his past, her mother has became her never ending present and she is now at a point where you want to scream at her to break free to create her own future.
After initial wariness with Levy’s fiction, her first book did not find a publisher for a long while, it is high time that praise is given for the space in literature she has carved out for women’s voices, myth and exploration of self.
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy £12.99 (Penguin)