Before Christmas I read Swimming Home by Deborah Livy, I really enjoyed her descriptive writing and unusual characters. Recently Hot Milk was recommended to me and when I went to buy it a woman in the shop saw me pick it up and told me how much she had enjoyed reading it and that it isn’t what you think it is at first. Intrigued, I put my other reading on hold and ploughed straight into sunny Spain and the unusual, atmospheric, often melancholy world of the Hot Milk.
I’m the first few chapters this book reads as a typical summer read, sunshine, beaches and foreign cuisine. However something darker is under the surface, hinted at by the protagonist, Sofia’s experience of swimming in the sea only to be stung. By the jellyfish known locally as Medusas. Sofia is caring for her sick mother but also struggling to find herself and discover what she wants for her own life under the strain of caring for her mother.
I enjoyed a lot of this book, the beautiful description, the setting, the complex characters and unusual relationships and the way that this book, as the lady in the shop told me, turns into something completely different to what you first expect.
However this book is far from perfect. For me Sofia is not a believable twenty five year old, she has the voice of someone far older and I don’t recognise anything in her that I see in myself and my friends. This feels more like a book of discovery aimed at an older readership. I also found some of the book just too bizarre as though Levy was struggling between lyricism and realism, not sure what type of book she wanted to write. I also, I’m afraid, found the ending painfully disappointing. There was a lot of build, the suggesting of something impactful round the corner, one twist that could have been dramatic but then wasn’t and the book simply ended. I felt let down, as thought the final chapters had been ripped from my copy of the book.
For description and character this book is excellent but for the experience of reading a well rounded book, I feel that there are many better books out there. The ideas and characters are unique, but the ending was simply disappointing.