“What is a myth?” That is a big question. It would be true to say that I was probably obsessed with it.
This is Sofia, protagonist of Deborah Levy’s novel Hot Milk attempting to establish her place amongst myths. And just as those stories are part of our cultural DNA, so Levy’s narrative creeps under the reader’s skin, stitching and unstitching its plot until Sofia arrives at a position if not of understanding, at least of wisdom, as her name indicates she ultimately must do.
Arriving in the Spanish resort of Almeira, Sofia accompanies her mother Rose who seeks a diagnosis for the paralysis which affects her legs and sometimes her entire body. But in fact it emerges that Sofia is as much in need of a cure as her mother – a cure that will free her from her own psychological paralysis, for Sofia has become a prisoner to her mother’s whims and to her own personal sense of failure.
Trained as an anthropologist, Sofia uses her awareness of myth, of kinship ties and cultural encryption to make sense of the people she encounters. But such categorisation of human behaviour proves inadequate in comprehending her love for the powerful German seamstress Ingrid Bauer, or her relationship with her absconded Greek father, Christos. Ultimately, it is a much keener sense of reality and of the deep, deep ties which bind us together which promises to release Sofia from her limbo. This is a study in self-liberation, couched in achingly beautiful prose. It is the first book by Deborah Levy that I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last.