Book review: Hot Milk

I was originally going to read Hot Milk as part of a books challenge I was doing last year but somehow I never quite got around to picking up a copy, so I ended up reading something else. Then, when I got it for Christmas I decided that it needed to be bumped up towards the top of my reading list.

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

Hot Milk follows Sophia, a barista who has put her thesis on anthropology on hold to travel with her mother to Spain. There, they visit the mysterious Gomez clinic to try to find a cure for her mother, Rose. Rose has remortgaged her home to do this, but it is unclear whether Gomez will actually be able to help.

Sophia, meanwhile, is a carer for Rose, who is very demanding and who can’t walk. Sophia feels trapped by her mother’s demands and frets about bringing her the wrong kind of water, as she says in the novel.

“My love for my mother is like an axe. It cuts very deep.”

However, she doesn’t spend all of her time by Rose’s side. She stolls along the beach and swims, getting stung by jellyfish and meeting the lifeguard, Juan, whose job it is to dish out ointment to the stings. She meets a German seamstress, Ingrid Bauer, who she becomes obsessed with and who becomes begrudgingly obsessed with her.

It’s a strange, short book and since it’s told by Sophia in an almost stream of consciousness style, it occasionally feels a little stilted. Not in a way that means the story doesn’t flow, but in a way that makes you feel almost like you’re sitting in Sophia’s head and that some of her thoughts don’t come as easily as others. It can be crystal clear, or dream-like, depending on her mood and the events she describes.

The value of different kinds of relationships is explored in detail; Sophie’s hypochondriac mother, her absentee father, Ingrid, Juan and the different relationships she has with them as she takes each of them as lovers, not to mention her mother’s new and mysterious Doctor. Sophia’s thesis was to be on memory and it’s easy to see why – she’s trapped in her past by her inability to function as an individual while her mother needs her care and this taints all of her new relationships, even though each one is unique.

I enjoyed this book and it made me want to read more of Deborah Levy’s work, but for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you which parts I enjoyed, or why. If you read it, you should tell me what you liked about it (or didn’t) because I need help to figure that out.

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