Hot Milk, Deborah Levy

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“I confess that I am often lost in all the dimensions of time, that the past sometimes feels nearer than the present and I often fear the future has already happened.”

Rating:  ★★★

I bought this book on a whim when I was browsing the Waterstones ‘new releases’ last summer, yet it became a sort of ‘meant to be’ decision that tied in with fate. I began the novel last summer in a rented car, driving down the southern coast of Spain alongside my two loud sisters and underneath the scorching sun. Coincidentally, this was where the book was set. Andalusia is a beautiful region of the country and to be able to visit the places while immersed in the prose was a kind of surreal experience, making the narrative feel extremely personal and real. Think white-washed buildings, deep blue skies and seas – the romantic scenery is harmonic and gives an atmosphere of serenity.

The novel depicts young woman Sophia, her mother, and a lot of Medusa jellyfish. Sophia has halted her Anthropology doctoral thesis to look after her sick, hypochondriac mother, with a mysterious illness and their last resort is to visit a specialist doctor in Spain. There’s a relaxed energy to the novel; Sophia spends much of her time waiting for her mother’s illness to be discovered. She is essentially free in her current position, yet feels trapped by her mother’s illness. Hot Milk seems a particularly relevant title, referencing the femininity which is so central to the text. Hot milk signifies the bond between mother and daughter, and perhaps the more sensual aspect of the female breast. There are several androgynous aspects to the character of Sophia, and we see her attracted to both a young male and female.

The story is dreamy, drifting from reality to the imaginary – Sophia often questions what is real and what is not, while the reader feels so vividly the breeze of the ocean and the smell of the sand. Sophia has lost focus in her life, and Spain becomes a sort of ‘in-between,’ serving as a kind of disconnected point in reality and out of sync with the world. The novel perhaps serves more as a journey, for a meaning of consciousness. Sophia wants to find her place, and a reason for her life. The prose is fresh, and the stream of consciousness aspect works well with a narrative that focuses primarily on the inner world of the protagonist.

The novel is bizarre and hypnotic, yet fluffy at times – there is a lack of plot to bite into. I feel there was perhaps a deeper meaning that I might have missed; I just wish I could have connected to it more than I had.

 

Also, I don’t know whether anyone would be interested but I am considering featuring a few posts on my journals and how I approach the art. If you like the idea please hit me up!

A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, Eimear McBride

Rating: ★★★★★

This book is something else. Taking on an internal narrative of the protagonist, we live through a young female narrator whom we never learn her name. Set in Ireland around the 1980’s, we are placed directly into the mind of the narrator through the stream of consciousness style of text. The title couldn’t be more perfect.

The young narrator is living in a kind of turmoil that reflects 1980’s Ireland. With themes of incest, rape and death. The use of such halting prose really strikes a chord with the reader, and you feel as though you are experience these events with her. The book is unconventional and a demanding read but definitely worth the struggle. The majority of the novel makes you experience things you would rather not know about, such as sexual abuse. And yet you want to read on because the prose is so addictive.

The novel itself seems very half formed. It takes a while to get used to the style of narrative which doesn’t flow like you wish it would, and the fluidity of text is very different to those of other authors. Yet there is a strange process that happens as you get further into the book, where you don’t notice your brain trying to figure out the rhythm anymore. The words flow into each other, paragraphs become like tidal waves and there’s a sense of bliss. Yet the events that take place quickly pull you under the current. The raw and broken sentence structure reflects the brokenness of the characters. With a mum struggling mental illnesses, a brother with a childhood brain tumour and a perverted Uncle, there is not much in the book that gives you a forgiving sense of hope or relief. Such trauma is brought on to the reader, with an evocative sympathy toward the narrator. We only see her side of the story, as we are in her mind, which is why the book is all the more traumatic. It is strangely relatable when you realise that the way McBride writes is a direct reflection of how we do think; disjointed, jumbled, lucid.

Originally, I wasn’t going to give this book five stars because a lot of the time I felt uncomfortable reading it. But the novel wasn’t intended for comfort; McBride presents this narrative in the precise way she wanted it; thought-provoking whilst deliberately disturbing. This is a book that leaves you breathless. She wanted to shock her readers.

 

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

Rating: ★★★★

It’s 1969, in Kerala, India. Twins Rahul and Estha visit their childhood 23 years later. The novel flickers from past and present, from when the twins were 7, and to their present day outlook. (Annoyingly I wrote a lot about this book in my journal, but left it at uni. I will insert it when I have gotten back.) Revolving around the ‘twin-ship’ of these siblings, the book is very focused on how they figure out their identity, as ‘them’ or ‘we’ or ‘us.’ As ‘two egg’ twins, their bond is quintessential to the story line. The twins see each other, when they are young, as the same – only to be separated physically. Yet their perspective changes when they grow older, when they begin to see each other as separate entities, due to the events that separate and change them throughout the book.

A novel that ultimately throws you to this deep pit of emotion, The God of Small Things is a beautiful book that toys with your heart. I read it back last Summer when the heat made me feel as though I was living in India and alongside the characters. Boundaries are emphasised throughout the novel – taboos, the class system, sexual freedom. The boundaries that limit women but do not affect men. These are all events that the children must overcome, as they revisit their upbringing. There is a heaviness felt in the novel as you watch events unravel and understand the children more and more in each sentence. The narrative reflects the characters; parts are deliberately repetitive and childlike whilst still deeply poetic and poignant.

There is an overarching atmosphere of melancholy. Roy wants you to appreciate the ‘small things,’ as mentioned in the title; there is a particular affection given to describing lesser important things, which have a greater effect. A fluidity of language makes it easy to read, a flowing of words that run into each other, in such compelling artistry. Sometimes there is perhaps too much description, and too much lulling around, which does become very overpowering.A great deal of concentration has to go into reading, as the past and present merge before your eyes and different characters are changed swiftly. Yet there is an ultimate connection that you feel towards the characters, particularly the twins.

It’s a beautiful, challenging read that will stick with you for a long time.

 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith

Rating: ★★★★★

So my first post! I thought I would start it with one of my favourite books that I read last summer, which has pretty much stuck with me. I was recommended by a friend to read it and it’s definitely the best bit of advice I have ever followed from her. For these first few posts I will be talking about books I have previously read rather than currently, just to get my feet in the water.

With the title based on the real story of a tree that continues growing even through concrete, it becomes an extended metaphor for the protagonist herself.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a brutally honest depiction of a young girl in poverty growing up in Brooklyn. It’s a slow-paced novel with plentiful description that makes you stop and smell the flowers. The harsh reality is not often a kind or pleasing one for the Nolands, who are living in Williamsburg in the slums during the early decades of twentieth century America.

The book is based around young protagonist Francie, an imaginative girl that makes the most of what she’s got. She’s resourceful, trying to find the beauty in things that wouldn’t normally seem beautiful. The book essentially is her story of learning to cope in her environment while she takes the role of a slight underdog in her family – her mother blatantly loves her brother more which is perhaps the hardest part of the story.

It’s a simple yet lucid read. Smith does wonders in description and you really feel the dirt and grit of living in the slums and sometimes even enjoy it. The book is lengthy, a good 500 pages long, yet is definitely worth the read and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys classic or modern literature, as it sits in middle ground.

Overall I felt that whilst very poignant, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a heartbreaker but still a heart-warmer.