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  • ★★★★☆

Hot Milk, by Deborah Levy

It feels almost impossible to cast a light on this book, as to read it is to be lost, slightly, in its woozy, intoxicating layers. It sizzles with the desire and delirium of the desert heat; dizzying, static and hypnotic - and it gets inside your head.

The book centres around Sophia and Rose Papastergiadis; a mother and daughter temporarily living in Almería, southern Spain, while they seek treatment for a mysterious medical condition that leaves Rose largely confined to a wheelchair. Sophia, meanwhile, struggles to see past her chained-animal existence to her shattered dreams of a “bigger life.”

It’s a strange kind of escapism when the story-world you’re ‘escaping’ into is one where everyone else wants to get out, but this story gets under your skin like prickly heat. The power of the central relationship creeps up on you slowly, its nuances buried beneath the bigger, more demanding alliances that distract the lead character, Sophia. Their mother/daughter narrative is subtly, slowly heartbreaking, in the way so many complicated family relationships are.

But it’s the atmosphere that stays with you; blistering and claustrophobic. At the end you may, like Rose, need a cold, fresh, glass of water to clear your head and shake the monsters free, and just hope it isn’t the “wrong sort of water.”

Published: 24th March 2016, Hamish Hamilton

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