Olympic Holidays’ Book of the Month has been chosen by travel journalist Lesley Bellew who says A Theatre For Dreamers blissfully transported her to the sun-bleached island of Hydra during lockdown.
She said: “I got out my sun lounger and sun hat, poured a glass of ouzo, found Leonard Cohen on Spotify and left lockdown for 1960s Greece.
“I didn’t know anything about Cohen’s love affair with Marianne Ilhen before he became famous so A Theatre For Dreamers made for a fascinating read on that point alone. The couple’s on-off relationship went on for many decades and Marianne was the subject of probably his best love songs. How had I missed that?
“Penny Samson’s meticulous research about the circle of poets, writers and artists who descended on Hydra 60 years ago reveals that the carefree paradise, amid the sound of church bells and chink of retsina glasses, was also littered with cruel adultery. This was a Bohemian life but before women’s lib had kicked in.
“The author’s absolute love of Hydra oozes through every page, painting a picture of rose-gold mountains and jewel-like stones at the bottom of the sea, all intensified by the heat and shimmering light.
“It’s a personal, impressionistic view of Hydra’s rhythm of life during such a transitional period in modern history coming from deep research to expose that alongside all the sizzling sun, sea and sex Hydra’s free love dreamers were often badly stung.
“Of course, Hydra is still in a time-warp with no cars, so roll on the day I, too, can hop on a ferry to see the horseshoe-shaped harbour come into view and sit outside a bar and chat to the locals about Leonard and Marianne.
“I contacted Polly Samson and she told me: ‘I am so pleased every time a reader says that A Theatre for Dreamers transports them to Greece (and best of all when I’m told that it almost makes up for a cancelled holiday) – and it’s lovely to be chosen as the Book of the Month. I am so looking forward to being back on Hydra, to have breakfast at the waterfront watching the cats gathering around the fishing boats and on to laze on warm rocks and swim in the sparkling sea’.”
Picture the scene amid skinny cats stretched out in the sun, free-range children and choruses of cicadas; it is 1960 on the Greek island of Hydra where a circle of artists, writers and poets live a sun-drenched bohemian life.
The story centres around 18-year-old Erica Hart who escapes London, courtesy of £1,000 savings left by her mother who had secreted cash from her menacing husband.
Grieving Erica finds her mother’s writer friend Charmian Clift on Hydra and, through Erica, follow the beginnings of a hippy life, although it is early days – talented Charmian supports her writer husband’s work and feeds the family while encouraging Erica not to be content with such a life.
Into the circle of lean, bronzed bodies enters young Canadian poet Leonard Cohen who moves in with Marianne Ilhen.
Erica watches, entranced yet uneasy as a paradise unravels in the burning heat; utopian dreams and innocence lost while wars rage between men and women on the battlegrounds of genius
A Theatre For Dreamers by Polly Samson is available at all good book stores.
- Talk to your Olympic Holidays team to arrange a day ferry from Athens, or Spetses (Piraeus) to Hydra
- Polly Samson is the author of two collections of short stories and two novels, and has written lyrics for chart-topping albums including Pink Floyd's The Division Bell, On An Island, Rattle That Lock and Louder Than Words. She is married to Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.
- Polly Samson and friends will present A Theatre for Dreamers - an evening of words and music, across the UK in September (after postponement in March), including London, Manchester and Birmingham. For tickets visit pollysamson.com