A Theatre for Dreamers by Polly Samson

I had high hopes for this book but I have to say that I finished it with something verging on disappointment and relief. Set on the island of Hydra, it is a story of writers and artists who have chosen this Greek island as a place on which to live a life of less care where they can concentrate on their creative process.

Erica is our narrator, fleeing a potential life of drudgery as carer for her overbearing father, now that her mother has passed away and doing this as a result of the inheritance that her mother bequeaths to give her that taste of independence and a life more libertine.

Along with her brother, Bobby and her beau, Jimmy as well as Bobby’s girlfriend, Erica heads off across Europe to visit Charmian Clift, their mother’s friend to sample a life of Grecian sun, sand, and simplicity. And this is what she gets, in parts. She lives a life from day to day, mixing with the artistic community and enjoying the uncomplicated nature of the island existence. However, she also discovers that despite the idyllic setting, all is not paradisiacal on Hydra as a lot of its inhabitants have relationships that are fraying at the edges and full of bitterness and betrayal.

As I have written that and read it back to myself, I realise that I have made the book sound meaty in content; a hotbed of hedonism and light-living where morals are few and pleasure is paramount. And yet, I never really felt it. The narrative is permeated with incidents of marriage under strife and gnarly conversations and secret encounters as well as adultery in the open; the characters are distinctive in that I knew who the different people were but I didn’t really root for any of them and never really got a grasp of their personality to develop warmth for them. I felt like I was viewing the action of the book from a distance, with a detachment, rather than being in the thick of it and I would like to say that this was a reflection of the balminess of summer portrayed in its pages, infiltrating my reading of the book and creating a soothing filter of dream-like quality but I would be lying.

A book that promised much but for me, failed to deliver. Not even a fictional representation of Leonard Cohen redeemed it for me.

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