Hot Milk by Deborah Levy- Book Review

Are you one of them millennials I keep hearing about?  In your 20s, with unfulfilled potential, no money, and feeling generally lost?  Sofia Papastergiadis feels the same way.  25, with an unfinished anthropology doctorate, and working in an artisan coffee shop in London, she hasn’t quite figured life out yet.  I felt like this through most of my twenties, graduating with a history degree and then just working in retail, and generally not having a clue what I wanted to do.

What I feel most is that I am a failure but I would rather work in the Coffee House than be hired to conduct research into why customers prefer one washing machine to another.

Hot Milk

Sofia and her mother, Rose, have travelled to Spain to visit the Gomez clinic to find a cure for Rose’s numerous medical conditions and symptoms.  It was her mother’s illness that caused Sofia to drop stop studying, and they have paid 25,000 euro to get the treatment.  Her mother can not walk, although sometimes she can. Sofia has even developed a limp of her own as she has spent so much time supporting her mother.  It’s time for her to figure out her own life, and what she wants.  The book plays out in the hot and beautiful Almeria, but Sofia is anxious and confused the entire time.

The unfinished thesis I wrote for my doctorate still lurks in a digital file behind my shattered screen saver like an unclaimed suicide.

At one point the book, another character complains that Sofia seems to be conducting anthropological study rather than really engaging with life.  And that’s certainly the tone of the book.  Occasionally, towards the end, I started to feel that it frustrated my ability to really engage with Sofia.

If I see myself as an unwilling detective with a desire for justice, does that make her illness an unsolved crime?  If so, who is the villain and who is the victim?  Attempting to decipher her aches and pains, their triggers and motivations, is a good training for an anthropologist.

I liked the writing style, I could relate to Sofia quite a lot, apart from the casual sex she seems to be having.  One of the reviews quoted in the front of the book describes Hot Milk as a fascinating book about sexuality.  Sofia  does seem to be fairly open minded about rolling around naked on the beach, maybe a sign of her inability to make meaningful connections with people.  But I found it frustrating as one of the people she is involved with is quite irritating, manipulative, and slightly crazy.  Sofia acknowledges this at times and remains knowingly obsessed with someone who confuses her.  I just wanted her to walk away quickly.