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.
Much of the advanced praise for A Theater for Dreamers —the book was first published in the UK last year—speaks to its immersive, transporting nature, and that assessment is spot on ...Erica is an observant witness to this island drama, even as she processes her own trauma. Samson’s character sketches—she’s currently writing the introductions for the reissues of Charmian’s two memoirs—remain convincing and well-done throughout, as the jealousies and suspicions of her various personages escalate to a boil ... successfully brings to life a lost milieu in all its scenery and personality. It’s the perfect read for this time of resurgent travel.
An appealing escape, a virtual vacation on the Greek island of Hydra. Dive into these pages and you can swim vicariously in a perfect horseshoe-shaped bay, dry off in the summer sun, admire countless young, scantily clad men and women, and end the day with a glass of retsina while you watch the moon set and listen to a young Leonard Cohen enunciate profundities about life and art.
An alluring historical novel revolves around the genesis of a relationship that inspired poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen ... On one level, this historical novel is a delectable work of escapism ... Samson is up to something else as well—Marianne, Charmian, Erica, and most of the other women in the book are the muses of male artists, and that role gets a cool-eyed dissection. They might be inspiring poems and novels and paintings, but they’re also doing all the cooking and cleaning and, in Hydra, hauling water up the hill, not to mention bearing babies, coddling their partners’ fragile egos, and quashing any creative talents they might have themselves. It’s a role that, in this theater, can end tragically. Brilliant people in a beautiful setting add up to seductive time travel, with an edge.
Samson brings off the scenes of drunken philosophizing, arguing, and gossiping with distinct, intimate credibility. Hydra is beautiful and the company glamorous, but the story feels less escapist than sad and gloomy, as the women cook while the men write, drink, and complain about writing. Cohen is the most famous character, but the book’s real star is Charmian, who tries to find time to write while coping with an ill and jealous husband and mothering her own children and Erica. The Cohen apocrypha will certainly interest his fans, but Samson’s greatest accomplishment is the multifaceted portrait of Charmian. The attention Samson pays to since-overlooked Charmian in this nuanced portrait may put the Australian writer back on the map.