An alluring historical novel revolves around the genesis of a relationship that inspired poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen.
On one level, this historical novel is a delectable work of escapism. Set on the impossibly picturesque Greek island of Hydra, it focuses on a group of expatriate writers and artists living the bohemian life in 1960. Its wide-eyed narrator is 18-year-old Erica. Mourning the recent death of her mother and fleeing a domineering father, she leaves London with her brother, a painter, and her sweet boyfriend, an aspiring poet. They head for Hydra to visit an old friend of her mother’s. Erica is fictional, but the friend, Charmian Clift, was a real Australian novelist who lived for years on Hydra with George Johnston, her husband and fellow writer. Charmian is an irresistible earth mother who, as Erica marvels, can wear a patched shirt and tie her hair up with a shoestring and look chic. George is a towering grouch who complains about the constant stream of new visitors “lured by our fantastically blue water and cheap rent to live out their carefree immorality away from prying city eyes.” But his and Charmian’s chaotic, welcoming household, tumbling with children and delicious food, is a magnet for the artistic crowd. That crowd also includes such real figures as Norwegian novelist Axel Jensen and his ethereally beautiful wife, Marianne Ihlen—and a very young and not yet famous Leonard Cohen. Yes, that Marianne, and the novel unfolds around the start of their relationship, amid dreamy days and nights of parties and feasts and sexual adventures, painted in lush prose. (Cohen fans will enjoy the author’s deft weaving of his song lyrics into his dialogue.) But Samson is up to something else as well—Marianne, Charmian, Erica, and most of the other women in the book are the muses of male artists, and that role gets a cool-eyed dissection. They might be inspiring poems and novels and paintings, but they’re also doing all the cooking and cleaning and, in Hydra, hauling water up the hill, not to mention bearing babies, coddling their partners’ fragile egos, and quashing any creative talents they might have themselves. It’s a role that, in this theater, can end tragically.
Brilliant people in a beautiful setting add up to seductive time travel, with an edge.
THE UK BESTSELLER THE SUNDAY TIMES NUMBER 2 BESTSELLER A Best of the Year Selection: The Times & The Sunday Times * Daily Mail * Spectator * Daily Telegraph “Reading the evocative novel, you'll ache for your own bygone summers, and worlds that can only be recovered through stories (or, in this case, songs).” —Oprah Daily, “34 of the Best Beach Reads to Help You Escape” “Perceptive . . . The [Leonard Cohen] apocrypha will certainly interest his fans, but Samson’s greatest accomplishment is the multifaceted portrait of [Australian writer Charmian Clift]. The attention Samson pays to since-overlooked Charmian in this nuanced portrait may put the Australian writer back on the map.” —Publishers Weekly “An alluring historical novel [and] a delectable work of escapism . . . Seductive time travel, with an edge.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review “Samson’s achingly beautiful depictions of the sun-soaked Greek paradise contrast strongly with the dark inner lives of its inhabitants. Tantalizing summer reading.” —Booklist “Escapist . . . A Theater for Dreamers embodies a summer vacation, capturing the essence of Hydra in vibrant, saltwater-scented impressions.” —Foreword Reviews “Brings to life this world of silver-spangled seas, scrumptious food and bohemian bed-hopping.” —The Times & The Sunday Times, “Best Fiction Books of the Year 2020” “One of the year's most lushly enjoyable novels, published during lockdown, it transports us straight to a Greek island and leaves us yearning for the sight of a lemon tree against a turquoise sea.” ―Daily Telegraph, “The Best Novels of 2020” “Beautifully crafted, this book evokes a lost douceur de vivre.” ―Financial Times, “Readers Picks” “Samson's sun-saturated novel set on the Greek island of Hydra might be just the escapism you need right now . Samson captures the darkness, emerging fractures and the beauty of their lives in a sharply feminist novel.” ―Daily Mail, “Best Novels of 2020” “A coming-of-age story which slyly interrogates the creative battle of the sexes while transporting you to the beauty of a Greek island in summer.” ―Spectator, “Books of the Year” “Heady armchair escapism . . . An impressionistic, intoxicating rush of sensory experience.” —The Sunday Times “Sublime and immersive . . . If you wish you could disappear to a Greek island right now, I highly recommend.” —Jojo Moyes, #1 bestselling author of Me Before You “A surefire summer hit . . . Feels at once like a gift and an escape route. At once a blissful piece of escapism and a powerful meditation on art and sexuality—just the book to bring light into these dark days.” —The Observer (A 2020 Fiction Highlight) “Samson summons the vision and the reality in a beguiling, deeply evocative portrait of a vanished era.” —The Guardian, Summer Reading Pick 2020 “Samson is an intensely sensual writer, conjuring up blue skies, the tang of wild herbs, the vivid splash of bougainvillea . . . As good as a Greek holiday, and may be the closest we get this year.” —Financial Times “Spellbinding . . . An immersive read, steeped in nostalgia. Samson's poetic prose is so evocative that, by the end, you find yourself googling those entrancing images of Hydra, 1960, just to wallow further in the poignancy of it all.” —Vanity Fair (UK) “Intoxicating . . . Highly accomplished . . . A testament to Samson's transportive prose.” —Spectator “By the end the reader may be unable to decide whether Hydra enchanted or cursed those attracted by its primitive beauty, cheap rents and easy access to sex, drugs and performance poetry . . . A novel about the treatment of women by artistic men.” —The Times “Samson imagines it all with sultry precision in this utterly transporting, bittersweet portrait of youthful and sexual idealism.” —Daily Mail, Summer Reading Picks “This well-crafted novel beautifully captures the texture of a halcyon age in which anything seems possible.” —Daily Mail “Dreamily nostalgic.” —The Observer (Fiction to Look Out for in 2020) “A seductive story, suffused with nostalgia.” —Sunday Mirror “A thoroughly enjoyable drama of hedonism, enchantment and emotional beastliness.” —Times Literary Supplement “Samson's beautifully turned sentences and original images are constantly arresting.” —Jewish Renaissance “Beautiful . . . Perfect if you want to escape the drudgery of another lentil dinner and dream of 1960s Hydra with Leonard Cohen.” —Dolly Alderton, author of Ghosts “So vivid that you can see the sun-washed white houses and blue seas.” —Good Housekeeping (UK), Book of the Month “It is a grand read and the prose falls translucently like the air . . . Superb work and a delightful novel.” —Thomas Keneally, Booker prize–winning author of Schindler’s List “This radiant novel will transport you straight to Greece - a blessing at a time when most of us are stuck in our homes.” —Cosmopolitan (UK) “Such a lyrical, elegant and beautifully told story.” —Joanna Cannon, author of Breaking & Mending “I cannot tell you how much I needed this beautiful book to transport me back to 1960s Greece! Lyrical, sexy, tender and sad in places. Highly recommended.” —Erin Kelly, bestselling author of Stone Mothers “Delicious.” —Nigella Lawson, author of Cook, Eat, Repeat “About real people living in Hydra in 1960. Steeped in nostalgia that's both sad and beautiful. It's fascinating, immersive and so MOVING.” —Marian Keyes, bestselling author of Grown Ups “Hands down the best book I've read all year. Luminous, immersive, gorgeous, profound.” —Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat “Samson is a wise and philosophical writer, and also an incredibly sensual one . . . If you loved Christopher Castellani’s Leading Men or Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins, you will go crazy for this one.” —Joanna Rakoff, international bestselling author of My Salinger Year “Her best work yet, so evocative and alive with the scents and colours of a Greek summer . . . Among the best prose writers of her generation. The writing is just delicious.” —Cressida Connolly, author of After the Party “I was utterly entranced. It feels entirely true and effortless and compelling— in the way that all great novels do.” —Justine Picardie, author of Coco Chanel “If summer was suddenly like a novel, it would be like this one. Immaculate.” —Andrew O'Hagan, author of The Secret Life “This is a sheer delight—I've never been to Hydra but this book transports you and miraculously, you are there in 1960.” —Jenny Eclair, author of Older and Wilder “A glorious novel.” —Kate Mosse, author of the Languedoc Trilogy “A beautifully written, evocative, inspiring novel. I devoured it.” —Kathy Lette, author of Husband Replacement Therapy “Polly Samson has created such a dazzling evocation of an era and its mindset. Here, the island of Hydra is a geographical place but a psychological one too, populated by beautiful and damaged characters who pull you down into its pages for another café gossip, another moonlit swim, another drink. This book is a bohemian idyll meticulously drawn, and unsparingly exposed. It is like going away to paradise, then coming back rather wiser. You don't read this book—you live it.” —Marina Hyde, Guardian journalist “A luscious seduction of a book.” —Sofka Zinovieff, author of Putney