The Greek island of Hydra is brought to life by Polly Samson in this absorbing tale of a young girl going out to fulfil her dreams and see the world in the wake of her mother’s death. Erica arrives on the sun-drenched shores and is instantly mesmerised both by the geography and scenery of this ‘theatre for dreamers’ and by the people who inhabit it.
She quickly finds herself part of the foreign colony on the island, particularly fascinated by her mother’s former friend, Charmian Clift, whose book inspired her trip. Together with her boyfriend, brother and a plethora of other young wannabe artists, writers and poets from across the globe, Erica makes Hydra her home and observes a whole host of melodrama and romantic infatuations between the real life characters of Clift, husband George Johnston, Leonard Cohen, Axel Jensen and Marianne Ihlen.
It is a beautifully written story, the sumptuous prose bringing the island to life and transporting the reader straight onto the sandy beaches and into the sparkling azure sea: “The water flashes blue as a million kingfishers. When you look down into it from the boat it’s rippling with gold. The clearest water in the whole of Greece. Closer to the beach, the reflections of pine trees stipple it with scarab-green iridescence.”
The characters too are fascinating – not least because they are based on their very real selves. The personalities are enigmatic and, despite their obvious flaws, each and every one of them leaps off the paper and into the mind’s eye.
When Erica returns to the island many years later though it is not quite the same – “the flagstones beneath my feet not gleaming as pink as I remembered” – and yet there are still some familiar faces, enough to pull her back into the lives of those who remain, to trigger memories of those halcyon days.
Samson is an exquisite storyteller, weaving an enchanting tale for those who followed the lives of the bohemian set who occupied the Greek island in the ‘60s, and if nothing else A Theatre for Dreamers will have readers dreaming of a trip to Hydra.