I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.
About The Book
1960. The world is dancing on the edge of revolution, and nowhere more so than on the Greek island of Hydra, where a circle of poets, painters and musicians live tangled lives, ruled by the writers Charmian Clift and George Johnston, troubled king and queen of bohemia. Forming within this circle is a triangle: its points the magnetic, destructive writer Axel Jensen, his dazzling wife Marianne Ihlen, and a young Canadian poet named Leonard Cohen.
Into their midst arrives teenage Erica, with little more than a bundle of blank notebooks and her grief for her mother. Settling on the periphery of this circle, she watches, entranced and disquieted, as a paradise unravels.
Burning with the heat and light of Greece, A Theatre for Dreamers is a spellbinding novel about utopian dreams and innocence lost – and the wars waged between men and women on the battlegrounds of genius.
A Theatre for Dreamers by Polly Samson is an evocative and heady read set in 1960 on the Greek island of Hydra. An island without any natural water save for a couple of wells and both car and traffic free, it was a mecca for artists and writers. Its beauty attracted Leonard Cohen, Charmian Clift and her husband George Johnston, Axel Jensen and Marianne Ihlen and it was on this island where they wrote, philosophised, argued and loved. This book is a fictionalised re-telling of the events which took place in this era and it is a peak into the social history of the time.
Our protagonist is Erica, a young woman whose world has been rocked by the death of her mother. She and her brother, Bobby have escaped their father’s dark moods and violent tendencies with the money her mother left her and have fled to Hydra to find their mother’s friend, Charmian. Hydra is an assault on the senses and for the impressionable Erica it becomes an instrumental place in forming her ideals.
Set during a searing Greek summer, A Theatre For Dreamers transported me to the whitewashed houses, turquoise seas and unforgiving steps which cover Hydra. I could see myself, like Erica, on the periphery of this group of cosmopolitan thinkers watching as they debated writing and love, feeling the undercurrent of tension running between certain parties and could taste the retsina they drank. I was completely entranced by their bohemian lifestyle and their dominance over this island.
But what I really enjoyed was the exploration of the role of women and the hints at the changes that are to come in the following decade. Charmian, a talented author in her own right is forced to pause her own career in order to help George write his opus. He is a troubled man and requires the full beam of his wife’s attention, no matter that she is also bringing up their children. Marianne sits at the feet of her husband Axel, she leaves a sandwich on his desk ready for him to start writing and brings up their son whilst he philanders his way round the island and beyond. And Erica? Erica doesn’t know what exactly she wants to do beyond marry her boyfriend Jimmy.
Missing a mother figure, Erica turns to Charmian as a substitute and it is she who helps her find her way on the island, teaches her to cook and encourages to want more for her life than being a wife. The tide of change is just around the corner and Charmian wants Erica to be at the forefront of it. The relationship between these two women is the heart of the novel, with Charmian, the leader of the bohemian tribe on the island, influencing Erica’s thoughts and way of life.
It’s an evocative and richly textured read with some stunning descriptions of Hydra (it is now firmly on my ‘must visit’ list) and provides a great insight into the world of these creative and influential people. I really enjoyed it but suspect I would have found it more rewarding if my prior knowledge of the characters were greater. This isn’t a criticism of the novel at all, in fact it led me down a Wikipedia wormhole and has spurred me on to read more about these intriguing and beguiling people. I love a book which sends me off in a different direction and it has opened doors down different avenues, which I am thankful for.
This is a perfect summer read, full of drama and with a wonderful sense of time and place and one which I recommend.
About The Author
Polly Samson is the author of two short story collections and two previous novels. Her work has been shortlisted for prizes, translated into several languages and has been dramatized on BBC Radio 4. She has written lyrics to four number one albums and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
Where You Can Buy It
My thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for providing me with a copy of the book and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to join the Blog Tour.