A Theatre for Dreamers is a novel about a place and a circle that have transfixed the world for decades.
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.
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.
A woozy summer haze of a book, A Theatre for Dreamers sets the scene for the tangled lives of the expat community on the Greek island of Hydra in 1960. Real life figures crowd the pages as Erica, mourning her mother, slips between the married, unfaithful couples amid the summer sun and disapproving locals.
There’s a dreamlike quality to the story, but like all good dreams it has to end, and end it does, with a lot of tragedy. Some of the former residents lives end bitterly and sadly, miles from the idyll Erica remembers.
Reading about the real figures Polly Samson fills her plot with is sobering – was Hydra a cursed place for these writers and poets? So many of them died much too young and so tragically, from suicide and drugs. The love stories that seem to be unfolding in the pages also seem doomed.
Samson recreates the febrile atmosphere that inspired several novels at the time from the residents, in such a way that you feel transported there with Erica, seventeen and not nearly as worldly as she thinks she is.
Beautifully written and moving, this is a fascinating read.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.