REVIEW // Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

Published: 2016

My Edition: Here

Rating: 2/5

Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk follows Sofia – in her early twenties, recently graduated anthropologist, and carer of her mother Rose. In an attempt to cure Rose’s mysterious illness, they both travel to Spain and meet Dr. Gomez – an unconventional doctor whose treatments only further the confusion of what may be affecting Rose. Sofia becomes increasingly frustrated as she spends her twenties as a caretaker for someone who is constantly complaining and refusing recovery, but soon rediscovers what it is she needs out of her own life.

I’m not usually someone who makes a point of award nominees – or winners, for that matter – but I had heard so much about this Man Booker 2016 nominee that I couldn’t help but be curious. Hot Milk has had such mixed reviews that I was ready to form my own opinion.

I think my rating of this book says it all. I found myself unfortunately really disappointed by Hot Milk. I have never read any other novel by Deborah Levy, but one of the first things that rubbed me the wrong way was her writing style. In Hot Milk, it seems as though Levy couldn’t decide on how to write this book, as there were consistently alternating fragmented and run-on sentences. Because of this, I often felt like what was happening in the novel was being explained to me by a much more juvenile writer, who would phrase something such as, “this happened and then this happened and then…” and so on. This was an automatic turn off for me, and made me feel as though the author viewed me as a “dumb reader”.

As a character, I found Sofia to be the ideal “mellenial”. She comes off as a young twenty-something who is not sure what to do with her life from this point on, and frankly, while that can be a huge cliche, I found her to be surprisingly tolerable. I think that her dilemma is a common feeling among twenty-something’s, and while it had its moments where it could be overdone, it also felt very familiar. However, Rose’s character is outrageously grating on the reader, and while I’m aware that her part of the story line is that she is quite difficult and has an aversion to change, in my opinion this was an overworked character flaw.

Deborah Levy’s plot execution also felt a bit out of place. This could just be my personal preference, but one of the major plot twists (which, of course, I won’t give away) felt completely out of the blue. I agree that, just like in life, some things don’t have an explanation and don’t need them, but this was so far out of character for Sofia that it felt like the author was reaching for shock factor instead of a plot turn that may be less shocking, but would have made far more sense.

Overall, I left Hot Milk personally unsatisfied and confused. I can’t really see, myself, why it was nominated for such a prestigious award, and unless you have some very, very specific reading tastes (of which I am not sure what those would be), I can’t see myself recommending this anytime soon.