This Man Booker Prize short-listed novel, Hot Milk by Deborah Levy [London: Hamish Hamilton, 2016] explores the ways in which its narrator, mid-twenties Sofia Irina, resolves, and also fails to resolve, several of her hang-ups. Her Greek father deserted her English mother for a Greek girl little older than Sofia and she has not seen her father for over a decade. Her abandoned mother has developed inexplicable symptoms and is unable to walk. She and Sofia have come to a swanky but possibly dubious clinic in Almería, on the southern coast of Spain. Sofia, a doctoral student in anthropology, finds her life narrowed into being solely her mother’s carer but is herself too dependent on her mother whose symptoms seem increasingly psychosomatic.
The younger people in the novel; Ingrid, the German beauty, Julieta, the daughter of Dr Gómez who runs the clinic, Matthew who is nominally Ingrid’s boyfriend, Juan who operates the first aid post on the beach and soothes Irina’s jelly-fish stings and Alexandra, Sofia’s father’s young wife; weave in and out of the narrative as the foils to the narrator’s self-discovery. Everyone’s sexuality pervades the atmosphere under a hot and unforgiving sun.
The final challenge laid down by Sofia might seem latent in the story but you may well not see it coming. By then, the book has enveloped the reader in the quality of its writing and storytelling. This is a psychological drama of real intensity and merited its place on the Man Booker short list