One of the most pleasant tasks at the SMSA library is the inventory of books (or stock taking), as it not only allows the staff to familiarise with authors and books held in our catalogue, but also grants, to book lovers like myself, the opportunity to discover treasures that, magically and unexpectedly, transport us to other realms.
Only a few weeks ago, the latest release in 2020 by Polly Samson, A Theater for Dreamers, landed in my hands and immediately captured my attention, as it is closely related to the remarkable and talented Australian authors Charmain Clift and George Johnston, who lived in Hydra altogether for eight years.
Set on this small island in the Aegean, the narrative thread is conducted by Erica, an 18-year-old girl fleeing from London during the sixties, a pivotal transition period between the Post-War Era and the 70s. She is witness and participant of the joys and dramas of an expatriate community of bohemians and intellectuals who, having turned their backs to their western metropolis, settled there in the quest for Arcadia.
Although a fictional narrative, the book has been thoroughly researched and conveys very well the portrait of the characters of this constellation of artists and their entanglement. Not to speak that it also gives us the unusual chance to sense the magnetic and forceful personality of Charmian Clift, with her dark, deep voice, statuesque presence and sharp and opinionated insights. In fact, the community somehow revolved around the couple, who also happened to host a young Leonard Cohen before he was to become a legend; as well as other figures of that beat generation.
The recount is interspersed with the coming of age of the narrator, who in her own way, tries to discover role models in life.
A Theater for Dreamers is a real page-turner book that will have you spellbound with its blending of simple life in a yet undiscovered paradise for tourists and the twists and turns of inter-relationships of the characters of this enclave.
In any case, my aim is not to give away spoilers but to entice you to read this mesmerising and profound novel, which leaves you with a sense of nostalgia for past times and reflections about the natural romantic view of trying to find new paths and places in life.
Samson is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, lyric composer of four Number One albums and, as a recently discovered piece of information, her husband is David Gilmore, musician and founder of Pink Floyd.
I look forward to commenting A Theater for Dreamers with you!
Further reading available at the SMSA library & Tom Keneally Centre:
- The world of Charmian Clift by Charmian Clift
- Strong-man from Piraeus and other stories by George Johnston and Charmian Clift
- Half the perfect world : writers, dreamers and drifters on Hydra, 1955-19644 by Paul Genoni and Tanya Dalziell
- Clean straw for nothing & Cartload of clay by George Johnston
- My brother Jack by George Johnston
- So long, Marianne: a love story by Keri Hesthamar
- My old man: tales of our fathers by Ted Kessler
- Written in History: letters that changed the world by Simon Sebag Montefiore
- Sneaky little revolutions : selected essays of Charmian Clift / edited by Nadia Wheatley
Review by Liliana Navarro