Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy: A Deceptively Simple Tale

Hot Milk is a novel written by Deborah Levy and was short listed for Man Booker prize 2016. On the surface it appears as a sweet, short and simple tale about the love-hate relationship shared by a mother and her daughter. But I feel the simplicity of the plot is a clever facade, below which can be identified a complex study of human identity and self esteem.

Rose and her daughter Sophie is staying at a beach side holiday spot in Almeria, Spain. But they aren't vacationing. Rose is partially paralysed and they are to consult Dr Gomez, a doctor with a dubious reputation. Sophie feels tied up with her dominating mother and is tired of tending her whimsical wishes. She is not even sure if her mother is actually sick. But a chance meeting with Ingrid, a German girl transforms her life and makes her confront her absent Greek father. She finds herself finally fighting her worst fears.

The cover of the book, picture of a bikini-clad woman and its beginning like a chick-lit generic story is the first deception in this book. My knowledge that it is shortlisted for Man Booker is the only factor that kept me from tossing it aside then. But gradually it made me invested in the proceedings. The characterisation and narration is very effective. Each character make us feel that there is something more to him or her that will be shared with us soon. And we keep on reading. Apart from the mother and daughter, the character of Dr Gomez kept me thoroughly entertained and I was perpetually waiting to see what new trick he pulls up his sleeve next.

It is only by the time we reach the part of Sophie's meeting with her father, which comes around second half from the middle of the story, do we appreciate the symbolic importance of several instances in the first half that we thought trivial while reading. And by the end the author succeed in making us realise the strong undercurrent of drama and emotion that never makes it to the surface, but nevertheless makes us aware of its silent presence underneath.

Still I feel many important instances and their significance went above my head. Probably I may have to read the novel again to appreciate and understand its nuances fully. It is a captivating read, of course, but as I mentioned before it is also a slippery and deceptive one. And, if somebody who read the novel could educate about the connection between its title and the story, I would be grateful. I know it is something related to Sophie's occupation in England as a coffee maker and how she prepare milk, a fact that is touched upon a few times in course of the novel, which is also the only reference about milk in it as far as I observed. But I cannot pinpoint the payoff of that information to the themes covered in the narrative.


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