Hot Milk

Hot Milk

by Deborah Levy


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A New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

Shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, Hot Milk moves "gracefully among pathos, danger, and humor” (The New York Times).

I have been sleuthing my mother's symptoms for as long as I can remember. If I see myself as an unwilling detective with a desire for justice, is her illness an unsolved crime? If so, who is the villain and who is the victim?

Sofia, a young anthropologist, has spent much of her life trying to solve the mystery of her mother's unexplainable illness. She is frustrated with Rose and her constant complaints, but utterly relieved to be called to abandon her own disappointing fledgling adult life. She and her mother travel to the searing, arid coast of southern Spain to see a famous consultant—their very last chance—in the hope that he might cure her unpredictable limb paralysis.

But Dr. Gomez has strange methods that seem to have little to do with physical medicine, and as the treatment progresses, Sofia's mother's illness becomes increasingly baffling. Sofia's role as detective—tracking her mother's symptoms in an attempt to find the secret motivation for her pain—deepens as she discovers her own desires in this transient desert community.

Hot Milk is a profound exploration of the sting of sexuality, of unspoken female rage, of myth and modernity, the lure of hypochondria and big pharma, and, above all, the value of experimenting with life; of being curious, bewildered, and vitally alive to the world.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Gorgeous . . . What makes the book so good is Ms. Levy’s great imagination, the poetry of her language, her way of finding the wonder in the everyday, of saying a lot with a little, of moving gracefully among pathos, danger and humor and of providing a character as interesting and surprising as Sofia. It’s a pleasure to be inside Sofia’s insightful, questioning mind." - The New York Times

"Levy has spun a web of violent beauty and poetical ennui . . . the book exerts a seductive, arcane power, rather like a deck of tarot cards, every page seething with lavish, cryptic innuendo." - The New York Times Book Review

"In Levy’s evocative novel, dense with symbolism, a woman struggles against her hypochondriacal mother to achieve her own identity." - The New York Times Book Review, “100 Notable Books of 2016”

"Against fertile seaside backdrops, Sofia, seeking a robust, global meaning for femininity and motherhood, becomes increasingly bold herself." - The New Yorker

"A powerful novel of the interior life, which Levy creates with a vividness that recalls Virginia Woolf . . . Transfixing." - Erica Wagner, The Guardian

"The novel's eerie atmosphere and sibylline turns of phrase have made Hot Milk the bettor's favorite for this year's Man Booker Prize . . . Its moody spell and haunted imagery pull you in." - Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

"Levy's work has developed a loyal following, and she has emerged as one of England's best-loved authors . . . She has reached the apogee of mainstream recognition with two appearances on the Man Booker Prize shortlist, one for Swimming Home in 2012, and another in 2016 for Hot Milk . . . Both works retain traces of Levy's early rawness, but they go in for a more muted lyricism. Their oddity is subtle and slow to surface. Reading them is like walking off into the fog and getting lost there . . . The way we should read Levy: as a call to disorientation, and a reminder that when we return from vacation we will always find the old house altered, the windows a little wider, and our tired lives at least a little different." - The Nation

"Exquisite prose . . . Hot Milk is perfectly crafted, a dream-narrative so mesmerising that reading it is to be under a spell. Reaching the end is like finding a piece of glass on the beach, shaped into a sphere by the sea, that can be held up and looked into like a glass-eye and kept, in secret, to be looked at again and again." - Suzanne Joinson, The Independent

"Levy’s language is precise. The absurdities of her style seem scattershot at first, but yield a larger pattern: a commentary on debt and personal responsibility, family ties and independence." - Washington Post

"Hot Milk is a complicated, gorgeous work." - Marie Claire

"Highbrow/Brilliant. [An] intensely interior but highly charged new novel about family, hypochondria, Spain, Greece, and all kinds of sex." - New York Magazine, Approval Matrix

"Economical, fluid, evocative of sex and mythology . . . . Young Sofia . . . drop[s] beautiful bombs of truth." - New York Magazine’s Vulture blog

"A singular read . . . Levy has crafted a great character in Sofia, and witnessing a pivotal moment in her life is a pleasure." - starred and boxed review, Publishers Weekly

"Scintillating, provocative . . . Levy combines intellect and empathy to impressively modern effect." - starred review, Kirkus Reviews

"Great lush writing [and] luxuriation in place. No writer infuses the landscape, urban or rural, with as much meaning and monstrosity as Levy . . . Unmissable." - Eimear McBride, The New Statesman

"An unsettling, poetic novel." - The Atlantic, “The Best Books We Read in 2016”

"Among the questions posed in this heady new novel: Is Sofia’s mother, Rose, sick or a hypochondriac who’s feverish for attention? And more important, can the frustrated Sofia break the chains of familial devotion and live for herself?" - O, the Oprah Magazine

"A captivating demonstration of why Levy is one of the few necessary novelists writing in Britain today. This is the poetry and playfulness of her prose . . . More important, Levy grapples with and presents the complex psychology and multiple facets of her female characters like few others, which makes the recent reappraisal of her life’s work all the more welcome." - The Forward

"A beguiling tale of myths and identity . . . provocative . . . The difficult, ambivalent, precious mother-daughter relationship forms the core of this beautiful, clever novel." - Michele Roberts, The Independent

The New York Times Book Review - Leah Hager Cohen

In Hot Milk—think of mother's milk, the milk of human kindness, spoiled milk, "long-life milk" processed to last in hot climates and the breast-shaped marble dome of the Gómez Clinic—Levy has spun a web of violent beauty and poetical ennui. As a series of images, the book exerts a seductive, arcane power, rather like a deck of tarot cards, every page seething with lavish, cryptic innuendo.

The New York Times - Sarah Lyall

…Deborah Levy's gorgeous new novel, Hot Milk…is a tale of how Sofia uses strength of will, rigorous self-examination and her anthropological skills to understand and begin to repair things that are holding her back. She learns to stand up for herself, to take risks, even to behave badly. She becomes bolder. Perhaps this sounds tiresome or conventional, a typical coming-of-age story. It's not. What makes the book so good is Ms. Levy's great imagination, the poetry of her language, her way of finding the wonder in the everyday, of saying a lot with a little, of moving gracefully among pathos, danger and humor and of providing a character as interesting and surprising as Sofia. It's a pleasure to be inside Sofia's insightful, questioning mind…As with her earlier, equally accomplished book Swimming Home, a febrile tale of desire and betrayal, Ms. Levy has set a seemingly simple story against a backdrop thrumming with low-key menace and sly, dry humor, sometimes in the same paragraph.

Publishers Weekly

★ 01/04/2016
“Is Donald Duck a child or hormonal teenager or an immature adult? Or is he all of those things at the same time, like I probably am?” These questions come from the memorable heroine of Booker-finalist Levy’s (Swimming Home) novel: 25-year-old Sofia, who instead of pursuing her anthropology Ph.D. works in a coffee shop in London and spends much of her time caring for her sick and complaining mother, Rose. The two have traveled to arid Almería on Spain’s southern coast to visit the renowned but unorthodox Dr. Gomez, a fitting choice, since Rose’s ailment is baffling to everyone, including Sofia. While in Almería, Sofia experiences an awakening: she meets the alluring Ingrid, gets stung by jellyfish, and becomes bolder in the face of her mother’s oppressiveness. There is light mystery in the beautiful locale involving some potentially dangerous characters, and the story might be best described as The Magus as written by Lorrie Moore. But it’s Sofia’s frantic, vulnerable voice that makes this novel a singular read. Her offbeat and constantly surprising perspective treats the reader to writing such as “we dressed as though there weren’t a dead snake in the room” and “unfinished hotels... had been hacked into the mountains like a murder.” Levy has crafted a great character in Sofia, and witnessing a pivotal point in her life is a pleasure. (July)

Library Journal

Sofia Papastergiadis, a 25-year-old waitress, is trapped in a go-nowhere life. The demands of her invalid mother, Rose, who is plagued by undiagnosed leg pains, stand in the way of Sofia pursuing a career in anthropology. The women have left England for the suffocating heat of southern Spain, where Rose places her faith in the dicey Gómez Clinic. While Rose is being "treated," Sofia drifts into uneasy relationships—one with Ingrid, a disturbed woman she meets in a restroom, and a more casual encounter with the student who treats her jellyfish stings. A brief empty visit in Greece with her long-estranged father and his new, much-younger family resolves before Sofia returns for the wrap-up of Rose's treatment. VERDICT The claustrophobic, all-encompassing dysfunction of Sofia's self-involved circle of friends and family is wrapped in the oppressive heat of Spain and the narrowing possibilities that she can (or wants to) break free. The Man Booker short-listed Levy (Swimming Home and Other Stories) draws in readers with beautiful language and unexpected moments of humor and shock. [See Prepub Alert, 1/25/16.]—Beth Andersen, formerly with Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2016-04-13
Kinship, gender, Medusas—this rich new novel from a highly regarded British writer dazzles and teases with its many connections while exposing the double-edged sword of mother-daughter love. Levy's (Things I Didn't Want to Know, 2014, etc.) latest work may read lightly but is in fact a closely woven fabric of allusions, verbal riffs, and cross-references reflecting the experiences and dilemmas of its narrator, Sofia Papastergiadis, born in Britain to an English mother, Rose, and a Greek father she hasn't seen in 11 years. Now 25, with a degree in anthropology, Sofia is living an empty, frustrated life since she abandoned her doctoral thesis to take care of Rose, whose many ailments include strange pains and mysteriously paralyzed lower limbs. The story opens in Almeria, Spain, where, at considerable expense, mother and daughter have gone to visit the Gómez Clinic in hopes of a cure for Rose. But is Rose really ill or a hypochondriac? Is Gómez a quack or a brilliant healer? Is Sofia a monster, as she and others refer to her, or a sexual powerhouse—as she begins to seem after acting on Dr. Gómez's recommendation that she become bolder by taking two lovers, one male and one female. Levy's wit and fluency render her quicksilver, sometimes surreal narrative simultaneously farcical and fascinating. The new, bolder Sofia may act more decisively—freeing an abused dog, stealing a fish, visiting her father and his new family in Athens—but underneath she's lost and lonely, afraid of "failing and falling and feeling." Yet her need for a "bigger life" cannot be suppressed, leading to one final act of boldness that disrupts—though doesn't necessarily sever—those tendrillike bonds holding her captive. In her scintillating, provocative new book, Levy combines intellect and empathy to impressively modern effect.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781620406700
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 05/09/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 568,254
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

Customer Reviews