Hot milk goodness #4


There’s another ancient topic in Hot Milk by Deborah Levy, maybe the only topic there ever is: families, or as Sofia, the stalled anthropologist, whose full name is Sofia Irina Papastergiadis, puts it: kinship structures.

“F=Father. M=Mother. SS=Same sex. OS=Opposite sex. I have no G (Siblings) or C (Children) or H (Husband), nor do I have a Godparent (who we classify as fictive kin because godparents can make up their responsibilities and duties).”

But maybe it’s all fictive kin. As she says on meeting her Greek father (named Christos, what else) for the first time in 11 years, each of us plays parts not denoted by our sign, sons being husbands to mothers, daughters being mothers to mothers, and so on.

“I have no plan B to replace my father because I am not sure that I want a husband who is like a father, though I can see this is part of the mix in kinship structures. A wife can be a mother to her husband and a son can be a husband or a mother to his mother and a daughter can be a sister or a mother to her mother who can be a father and a mother to her daughter, which is probably why we are all lurking in each other’s sign. It’s my bad luck that my father never showed up for me, but I had not changed my surname to Booth, even though it was tempting to have a name that people could spell. He had given me his name and I had not given it away. I had found something to do with it. The name of my father had placed me in a bigger world of names that cannot be easily said or spelt.”



3 thoughts on “Hot milk goodness #4

  1. I’m not finding the time to re-read “The Red Shoes” and “The Handless Maiden,” so I will have to rely on my increasingly unreliable memory. “The Red Shoes” is primarily a story about lack of authenticity and addition, with one leading to the other. In “Hot Milk” the mother, Rose, is addicted to her medications. The addiction doesn’t have to be to a substance; in my own case, during a stressful period in the corporate world, I spent a lot of time and money buying clothes. Looking back, I realize that I was trying to live up to a role by wearing the right costumes. Thus, a lack of authenticity and an addiction.

    From “Women Who Run With The Wolves”: “In the tale we see that the child loses the red shoes she has fashioned for herself, those that made her feel rich in her own special way. She was poor, but she was innovative; she was finding her way.”

    There are several themes in “The Handless Maiden” but in the context of the novel, the idea of feminine and masculine elements within each individual comes to mind. The feminine represents the inner world – dreams, imagination, creativity – and the masculine represents the active principle that is able to take the products of creativity out into the world. Without hands, the maiden cannot do that. In the novel, Sofia cannot drive a car and cannot take the expertise she has learned from her studies out into the world – to earn a living, for example.

    Both stories are complex and rich with detail and underlying significance, as is the novel. It is hard to do them justice in a WordPress comment or even four WordPress posts. Still, these are fascinating subjects and I’m glad for the chance you’ve given me to explore them again.


    • It’s interesting what you say about clothes and donning a costume. Think about Ingrid and her fashioning of garments from rags and damaged clothes. Also, her shoes, the silver lace up sandals and the knee high boots she wears with the helmet when riding Leonardo’s horse. She is the Handful Maiden part of Sofia, using her hands and wits to make money (in China!). Did you notice when Sofia learns to drive she can never find neutral? Good joke.

      It’s also been ages for me since I read those stories but I think I remember in THM, it’s the father who causes (through the bargain he makes with the devil) and enacts the daughter’s incapacitation, out of which she must fashion her own hands. Similar for Sofia, as it’s her father’s leaving that has brought about her incapacitation through the entanglement/dependency with her mother and her mother’s rage.

      I’m going to re-read the Medusa story. Like Sofia, I have curly hair like the Medusa. I once said that to a boss in a prospective job interview, can you believe it? Didn’t get the job of course, must have thought I was a loony. I’m not entirely sorry I did. At least it made a change from “what are your strengths and weaknesses” and “how would you solve [insert unsolvable issue here]” I’ve also been entangled and stung by jelly blubbers many times!

      I finished the book yesterday and I’m missing Sofia already!!! It was a great read. Stuffed with myths and fables and allusions and jokes, and yet not intellectual but juicy and thrilling. Loved it!!! Going to read it again soon.

      Liked by 1 person

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