Hot Milk, Deborah Levy

img_8298

“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!

Blue Nights, Joan Didion

“I know what the fear is.
The fear is not for what is lost.
What is lost is already in the wall.
What is lost is already behind the locked doors.
The fear is for what is still to be lost.”

Rating: ★★★★

Over Easter I had the pleasure of reading my first Joan Didion novel. Blue Nights was written as an ode to Didion’s daughter, Quintana. Not quite sure was I was expecting, I delved into a prose that seemed comforting and familiar; a lyrical, subtly poetic verse that transfers you directly into Didion’s world. Perhaps it was the easily readable text that enabled her words to imprint into my mind, loitering for days later, these sentences that appeared so relevant to me.

In Blue Nights, most notable is Didion’s stylistic methods which pose questions to the reader and create a tighter bond and deeper connection between the reader and writer. In some ways, the book seems too private for publishing. I felt invasive when reading about her daughter’s hospitalisation, and personal experiences dealing with age, sickness, and death. But ultimately, she talks about the truths that are rarely spoken about, which come about in an invasive manner. There is a fluidity from abstract and concrete; universal questions are put in the midst of everyday scenarios much like the thoughts come into our heads.

The flexibility of narrative, expanding from intellectual thought to internal processing of her struggles much reflects a train of thought, or our subconsciousness. The universality of the book, while Didion sometimes appears strangely disconnected to the prose, creates an elusive outlook into her life. Profound is the use of the colour blue, which has so many different meanings. Blue can be dark, it can be grieving, and death. It can have such bright qualities, with melancholic undertones.

I wasn’t quite sure what I would get out of this book. I did not realise how biographical it was, and often this is a style of writing that I am not fond of. Yet, I came away with this passion for Joan Didion. I felt as if I had seen into her life on a personal level, a feeling which is usually absent between the author themselves, and the reader. While realistically, I cannot relate to Didion’s lifestyle or circumstances put forward in this novel, I felt so deeply connected to her. There is definitely a self-medicating aspect to the prose as she overcomes death and loss, and the reader feels a sense of healing whilst reading it.

(I apologise for the hiatus. I’m currently in the middle of exam period, and should solely be focusing on them but I haven’t stopped thinking about this book since I’ve read it.)

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.