Book Review

May 18, 2020

Polly Samson’s A Theatre for Dreamers is a Spellbinding Read


Got the isolation blues? I’ve spent the past few days on a glorious vacation, on a sundrenched Greek island with a group of charismatic, creative people. Thank you to author Polly Samson and her glorious new novel, A Theatre for Dreamers for taking me there.

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. Early on we learn about her abusive father and mother’s death. Years earlier, Charmain Clift was their neighbour and Erica later discovers that her mother, Connie and Charmain had remained in touch. Charmain had encouraged Connie to visit her in Greece, and while that wasn’t to be, before she died Connie did leave a way for Erica to have an adventure.

A Theatre for Dreamers is a glorious combination of The Durrells and Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1996 film, Stealing Beauty. Perfect setting, tick. A cast of creative, complex characters, tick. Good times threaded with darker themes and questions around art and the artist. Tick, tick.

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.

Although Polly Samson had visited Hydra before, it wasn’t until she read Charmain Clift’s memoir, Fell Me A Lotus, that she discovered the island’s bohemian expatriate history, which included Clift and her Miles Franklin Award winning husband, George Johnston and Leonard Cohen. A Theatre for Dreamers sprang from that. (It should also be noted that Samson herself comes from a literary family, had a child to Heathcote Williams and then married Pink Floyd singer and guitarist David Gilmour, so has herself lived in an extraordinarily creative world. Check out this clip of Samson, Gilmore and their kids in isolation, launching A Theatre for Dreamers.)

I was utterly enthralled by A Theatre for Dreamers and have spent hours researching Hydra and its bohemian artists ever since. It’s a beautifully written novel, impossible to put down and difficult to leave behind after the final page. It’s sitting with me days later as I crave a return to the sea, sun and this sensational story.


(Review supplied by betterreading.com.au)

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