"Eschewing conventional plot and characterisation, Levy’s narrative unfolds in a series of potent images"by Jane Shilling / July 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy (Hamish Hamilton, £12.99)
Sofia and her mother, Rose, travel to Almeria, in southern Spain, where Rose is to be treated for a mysterious illness by an enigmatic physician, Dr Gomez. To pay his fees of €25,000, Rose has remortgaged her house. It is, as Sofia remarks, a substantial sum to spend on the treatment of symptoms that are intractable, but curiously mutable. “Attempting to decipher her aches and pains is good training for an anthropologist,” thinks Sofia, who studied the subject, but abandoned her PhD to care for her mother, and now works in a coffee bar.
Deborah Levy, whose earlier novel, Swimming Home was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, takes her epigraph from “The Laugh of the Medusa,” a 1976 essay by the feminist critical theorist, Hélène Cixious: “It’s up to you to break the old circuits.” Cixious’s insistence that women should redefine the narratives of their physicality has a particular resonance for Rose, rendered both helpless and tyrannical by her malady, and for Sofia, suspended in a paradoxical state of childish dependence by the need to mother her own mother.
Eschewing conventional plot and characterisation, Levy’s narrative unfolds in a series of potent images: medusa jellyfish that raise stinging welts on Sofia’s flesh; the word “beloved” embroidered on a gift from her seamstress lover, which Sofia reads as “beheaded”; the maddened barking of a chained dog. No easy resolution is offered, but a conclusion is reached which, while bleak, is not altogether devoid of consolation. Jane Shilling