What makes the book so good is Ms. Levy’s great imagination, the poetry of her language, her way of finding the wonder in the everyday, of saying a lot with a little, of moving gracefully among pathos, danger and humor and of providing a character as interesting and surprising as Sofia. It’s a pleasure to be inside Sofia’s insightful, questioning mind.
Deborah Levy conveys an atmosphere of out-of-kilter surreality without ever violating the rules of realism. There’s no magic here, aside from the supernatural powers of peculiar prose ... Achieving quite a feat of memory and imagination for an author in her mid-fifties, Levy gives convincing voice to the foundering, floundering sensation of the mid-twenties ... The prose is often jagged, abrupt, even savage, but the narration is leavened with a touch of drollness, and I wouldn’t want to suggest this novel is a big, dark drag. It’s entertaining and reads swiftly. But it’s also strange.
In Hot Milk Levy has spun a web of violent beauty and poetical ennui. As a series of images, the book exerts a seductive, arcane power, rather like a deck of tarot cards, every page seething with lavish, cryptic innuendo. Yet, as a narrative it is wanting ... The symbols here, although entrancing individually, feel at once overdetermined and underpurposed. They never fully cohere into a satisfying web.
This isn’t a long novel, but it is dense in the way a poem is dense, rich with meaning poured into its simple language ... Hot Milk is a powerful novel of the interior life, which Levy creates with a vividness that recalls Virginia Woolf.
It’s easy to mistake Hot Milk for a similarly empty-handed performance. But while the plot is shaggy, Levy’s language is precise. The absurdities of her style seem scattershot at first, but yield a larger pattern: a commentary on debt and personal responsibility, family ties and independence. Hot Milk isn’t the fable we asked for about the European financial crisis. But it’s the one we’ve got.
The effect of Sofia’s breakdown is richly destabilizing and unpredictable, and very much in line with Ms. Levy’s earlier barbed novels ... She has found a niche unpacking the lies and power struggles of families on holiday. She can show you fear in a handful of sand. Yet the novel lacks any semblance of a convincing plot. Ms. Levy advances the story not by creating a dramatic arc but by shuffling through a set of symbols like a fortune-teller turning tarot cards.