Review: Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
Published by Penguin
Released 1st June 2017
224 Pages

Two women arrive in a Spanish village – a dreamlike place caught between the desert and the ocean – seeking medical advice and salvation. One of the strangers suffers from a mysterious illness: spontaneous paralysis confines her to a wheelchair, her legs unusable. The other, her daughter Sofia, has spent years playing the reluctant detective in this mystery, struggling to understand her mother’s illness.

Surrounded by the oppressive desert heat and the mesmerising figures who move through it, Sofia waits while her mother undergoes the strange programme of treatments invented by Dr Gomez. Searching for a cure to a defiant and quite possibly imagined disease, ever more entangled in the seductive, mercurial games of those around her, Sofia finally comes to confront and reconcile the disparate fragments of her identity.


Every once in a while I like to read books outside of comfort zone. It gives me more variety and shakes up my reading habits. This is exactly what I did with Hot Milk. I found out about this book via my local Waterstones. They are reading it for their July book club meeting of which I am going so I knew I had to give it a read. I knew straight away that this was out of the genres which I usually read but I was willing to give it a go and see what happened.

Sofia, an anthropology graduate and her mother Rose arrive in a village in Southern Spain – a dreamlike location between the desert and ocean. The pair are there to seek medical advice. Rose suffers from a mysterious illness which has confined her to a wheelchair, her legs unusable. Sofia has spent years helping her mother but at the same time trying to understand and solve this mystery illness. Sofia waits as her mother undergoes various tests and treatments invented by the elusive Dr Gomez. All the while whilst Sofia start to confront her identity. 

This was such a strange short book. At times I found it hard to actually figure out what the plot was about it felt a bit over the place at times. It was as if it was a puzzle wanting to be figured out. I understood the themes of neglect and guilt that were plastered throughout the story. However, as I am only young and don’t know anything about anthropology those elements of the story were lost on me. All throughout reading I felt like there was something I was missing. This was very unsettling and did affect my reading. I could have finished a book this size in 2/3 days but because of my unsettled feelings it took me a week.  

I also found it really hard to connect with any of the characters within the story. Rose didn’t appeal to me at all. I found her characterisation lacking and she was just a character that you wouldn’t be able to bond with. Sofia, was okay but I did find her to be quite dull at times too. She was very complicated and I just couldn’t be dealing with that. Although, the relationship between the two was quite interesting. You could tell that despite her irritation towards Rose that Sofia really did love her and appreciate her. As for the supporting characters, I just didn’t want to get to know them. As harsh as it sounds but this is just in my opinion.

The one thing I did love about Hot Milk mind you, was the poetic use of language. I love poetry and metaphors and symbolism so the writing style really did appeal to me. I was able to immerse myself in the language and this was probably the main reason why I stuck with the book. I probably would have given up if the writing style wasn’t as good. The language suited the style of the story and should be given credit.

Hot Milk was a very odd and slightly complicated read. Totally different to what I am used to and it did push me out of my comfort zone. The use of language however, has made me want to look in some more of Deborah Levy’s work. Maybe each of her stories are different. 


Author Bio

Deborah Levy trained at Dartington College of Arts leaving in 1981 to write a number of plays, highly acclaimed for their “intellectual rigour, poetic fantasy and visual imagination” (Marina Warner), including PaxClam and Heresies for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and Macbeth-False Memories, all published in Levy: Plays 1 (Methuen).
Deborah has written six novels: Hot Milk (2016), the Man Booker shortlisted Swimming Home (& Other Stories/Faber), Beautiful MutantsSwallowing Geography (reissued by Penguin in 2014), The Unloved (Penguin), Billy and Girl (Bloomsbury). Her 2012 short story collection, Black Vodka (& Other Stories) was short listed for The Frank O’Connor Award and the BBC International Short Story Award. Her long form essay, Things I Don’t Want To Know, a response to George Orwell’s 1946 essay Why I Write and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is published in hard back by Notting Hill Editions, paperback by Penguin.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s