On the Greek island of Hydra, a proto-commune of poets, painters, and musicians revel in dreams at the feet of their unofficial leaders, the writers Charmian Clift and George Johnston, troubled queen and king of bohemia.
A Theatre for Dreamers feels at once like a gift and an escape route ... With such a vivid, atmospheric setup, the book almost writes itself, but Samson has done something more than just wallow in the loveliness of it all. This novel will be a surefire summer hit, but it has a darkness and complexity that reward careful reading. Cohen and Marianne operate at tangents to the central story of the novel, which is narrated by the likable ingenue Erica, a novitiate novelist in her late teens whose mother’s dying wish was for her daughter to go off on an adventure ... There’s a lot of high-flown prose ... Erica is a kind of Nick Carraway-figure, largely on the outside of events, observing and learning from the more experienced, glamorous people she has fallen in with. Her first-person narrative – in a breathless present tense – lingers almost painfully over descriptions of Cohen, so that he does to the text what it was said he did to a room, dazzling everything in sight ... The novel is bookended by Erica’s later visits to the island, where she drops down through time to those halcyon days before Leonard and Marianne became a kind of shorthand for the artist and his muse, and everything is melancholy and nostalgic. A Theatre for Dreamers is at once a blissful piece of escapism and a powerful meditation on art and sexuality – just the book to bring light into these dark days.
A thoroughly enjoyable drama of hedonism, enchantment and emotional beastliness, stretched over an elastic summer of new horizons and disappointments. Though the Hydra story is well known, Samson brings fresh life to the real characters, while wisely keeping the focus on her fictional narrator. The research is commendable but never overwhelms the narrative; you do not need to know anything about Pat Greer or Gregory Corso, Johnston, Clift, or even Cohen, to enjoy this tale of a young woman’s sentimental, and often painful, education.
A delightful novel, full of the beauty and the harshness of the island; glimpses of the lives of poor local people; the bohemian freedom of the artists’ community; and, as George puts it, the ‘bludgers lured by our fantastically blue water and cheap rent to live out their carefree immorality away from prying city eyes’. Erica, understandably, learns much about life, the disadvantages of being a ‘muse’, and the fickleness of men. George is a typical gruff, outspoken Aussie bloke, and he and Charmian fight, and drink and live life to the full. Charmian becomes a caring motherly friend to Erica; Leonard is young and serious; and Marianne is beautiful, and happily dedicated to looking after the men in her life and creating attractive and comfortable homes for them to work in ... a book for dreamers.