Unlike The Black Dahlia this was a perfect book for suntanning. Don’t get me wrong it is not one of those quick and easy beach reads, it just takes place in the summer in Spain, so it instantly made me click with the story when I read it on the beach.
Sophia and her mother Rose are in Almeria, but they are not on vacation. Rose for years had problems walking and Sophia remortgaged her apartment to come to the clinic of dr Gomez looking for treatment, when everything else failed..only it is not so sure if Rose actually wants to be healthy. Sophia is 25, at home she works as a barista and lives above the coffee shop, she started and abandoned a PhD in anthropology. She never really built her own life, because she spends it investigating her mother elusive disease and catering to her every need. Rose terrorizes Sophia with her illness, using it as a tool to keep her close.
As dr Gomez excludes one cause after another we see Rose resisting the treatment and challenging Gomez. He doesn ot give up easily, first of all he makes Rose stop taking any medication, then forces mother and daughter to separate. This and the new environment and people around her seems to share Sophia out of her stupor and toxic attachment to her mother. She has time to focus on herself, something she’s not used to. On one hand Sophia wants to be free form her mother, on the other on her own free will she is always there to serve her a glass of ‘never the right kind of water’.
The stay in Almeria puts their relationship and dependency under strain, not only because the ‘treatment’ Rose is undergoing, but also because Sophia meets people, opens up and starts to also think about herself. Rose is busy fighting her battle with Gomez, but she notices the change and doesn’t want to let go. At some point Sophie gets stung by a jellyfish, gets entangled in the burning tentacles, just like she and her mother are entangled in their toxic relationship, it does them no good, but it is the only thing they know so both are scared to let go.
Sophia also visits her father in Greece, only to discover he completely rebuilt his life and there is no space for her anymore. Not only for her but also for any memories of her or her mother. Sophia’s father took to extreme what she cannot do at all – thinking an caring about himself. He sees no reason to sacrifice himself for others, why should he?
I found the way Levy portrays the toxic relationship very interesting, it is not a case of one person wanting to break free, they both hold each other hostage. Rose doesn’t want to be alone, but neither does Sophia and the relationship with her mother is the only one she knows. She uses her mother as a shield form the world and growing up, from taking responsibility for herself.
The book is written in a very dreamy way, a bit like waking up from a nap on a hot day, everything seems to be a bit out of focus and vibrates. The heat brings a sense of unreality, the sun is blinding. And I must admit the climax is very cathartic, which is something I often feel in theater, sometimes in the cinema, but not very often in books.
Thanks to Penguin Book (UK) for providing me a copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
P.S. I wrote the review before the longlist for Man Booker Prize was announced, but I’m very happy Hot Milk is on the list.