It’s a weird little book. The feeling I had while reading it was a bit like the one while looking at modern art in Baltic Gateshead or Tate Modern. Previous visits to those places have always reduced me to frustration and mild swear words. Hot Milk is not as bad, in terms of weirdness. But it gave me a similar ‘what is this about’ feeling.
So I’ll just say what I read and felt and leave the potential deeper meanings and symbolism that I possibly have missed aside.
The story mostly happens on Almeria (Spain) beach. The air is hot and dry. The sea is full of jellyfish. A mother (Rose, 64) and a daughter (Sofia, 25) travelled from England to this place to get specialist treatment on the mother’s leg. All the English doctors seemed to have failed to find a reason and this is their last resort/gamble. So the story starts as they settle into their beach house, meet the doctor and the nurse at the clinic, make acquaintance with the locals.
Plot-wise, there is not a lot going on. Consultation and investigation into Rose’s illness go on and on, round and round. The confined perimeter of Sofia’s existence which traps her physical activities is like a mirror of her psychological one. She bounces around inside, having fragmented conversations and relationships. She’s never happy, always suppressed, frustrated, wanting to be free and away, but tied to the earth. Because it’s written in a dream-like tone, many readers argue that some things happen and people exist only in Sofia’s head. That’s possible. But I think they do happen in real life (the fictional Sofia’s real life that is).
The mother, Rose, is such a bully. She dominates her daughter’s life with her personality, her unreasonable commands, her raging complains, her aggressive attention-seeking. She chains her daughter with her non-existent leg issue, possibly because she has no one else in her life to love and hurt, and she’s terrified that Sofia will leave her one day. I really don’t like her.
There’s probably loads I missed. But I’ll leave it as that and move on. I’ll read Levy’s The Man Who Saw Everything at some point. It feels like the same sort of dreamlike story that mixes up the past, the present and the future, but with more plot. Hope that might shed some light on this book.