cover image A Theater for Dreamers

A Theater for Dreamers

Polly Samson. Algonquin, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-64375-149-8

Writer and Pink Floyd lyricist Samson’s perceptive latest (after The Kindness) dissects the 1960s expat community on the Greek island of Hydra. Narrator Erica, 18, leaves drab 1960 London with her boyfriend and brother, looking for sun and a cheap place to make art. They choose Hydra because Australian writer Charmian Clift, an old friend of Erica’s recently deceased mother, is living there. The welcoming Charmian and her husband, fellow writer George Johnson, are the epicenter of the community, and soon Erica knows everyone, including newly arrived songwriter Leonard Cohen and his beautiful lover, Marianne Ihlen. Samson brings off the scenes of drunken philosophizing, arguing, and gossiping with distinct, intimate credibility. Hydra is beautiful and the company glamorous, but the story feels less escapist than sad and gloomy, as the women cook while the men write, drink, and complain about writing. Cohen is the most famous character, but the book’s real star is Charmian, who tries to find time to write while coping with an ill and jealous husband and mothering her own children and Erica. The Cohen apocrypha will certainly interest his fans, but Samson’s greatest accomplishment is the multifaceted portrait of Charmian. The attention Samson pays to since-overlooked Charmian in this nuanced portrait may put the Australian writer back on the map. (May)