Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

Feels like: reading a Wes Anderson film; all Kodachrome pastels, eccentric observations and quirky inner dialogue.

Song pairing: “Water” by Sudan Archives

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

Hot Milk takes us on a very strange, very character-driven journey through a mother’s hypochondria, and a daughter’s desperate desire to live her own life. I went into this novel completely intrigued by the premise because I am one half of a mother-daughter duo that sometimes dwells in that tangled web of co-dependency. Was I expecting a coming-of-age-style sexual awakening novel on top of that? Not exactly, but it’s what we get in Hot Milk, a title that’s in itself a clever Spanish innuendo.

Sofia is a young anthropologist with an unfinished thesis sitting in the bowels of her laptop. Her mother, Rose, is a hypochondriac with a plethora of physical ailments, the most troublesome being her inability to walk. Sofia has become a muted caretaker, stalling her life from moving forward by acting as sole attendant to her mother’s conditions. As a last ditch effort to figure out why Rose’s legs don’t work, they travel to Spain to visit the Gomez Clinic, a grand marble-domed specter of a hospital, rising out of the arid landscape. The phallic imagery is beyond measure.

Between therapy sessions with presumed quack Dr. Gomez and ill-advised swimming in waters crowded with stinging jelly fish, Sofia meets Ingrid, a quirky German seamstress who immediately engages her in staccato repartee the likes of which has yet to be found outside of a Wes Anderson film. It’s as if Margot from the Royal Tenenbaums met herself, and fell in love.

There are moments of literary mastery. The symbolism of Sofia’s sexual awakening coinciding with her manifest desires to be free of her mother’s psychosis make for some vivid imagery during her seeming delusions. I also love that most of the characters in this novel are females, all of which are unencumbered by stereotype, independently interesting, stealing scenes. As for the flow, I read this novel very quickly; the writing kept a brisk pace and it was easy to dive in and out of its universe.

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience of reading Hot Milk. Some scenes will remain with me, while most of the plot I’d forgotten by the time I finished the book. However, the final chapter is a beautiful surprise that makes reading the whole novel worth it.

Memorable quotes:

🌉“If Ingrid is a bridge leading me across the swamp beneath it, she keeps taking a few of the bricks out every time we meet.”🌉

👩🏻‍💻Pretending not to notice and pretending to forget are my very special skills. If I were to pluck out my eyes, it would please my father, but memory is like a barcode. I am the human scanner. 👩🏻‍💻

💅🏼I am pulsating with shifting sexualities. I am sex on tanned legs in suede platform sandals. I am urban and educated and currently godless. 💅🏼

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