A Theater for Dreamers: Book summary and reviews of A Theater for Dreamers by Polly Samson

A Theater for Dreamers

by Polly Samson

A Theater for Dreamers by Polly Samson X
A Theater for Dreamers by Polly Samson
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  • Publishes in USA 
    May 11, 2021
    336 pages
    Genre: Novels

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About this book

Book Summary

A spellbinding tour-de-force about the beauty between naïveté and cruelty, chaos and utopia, artist and muse—and about the wars waged between men and women on the battlegrounds of genius.

It's 1960, and the world teeters on the edge of cultural, political, sexual, and artistic revolution. On the Greek island of Hydra, a proto-commune of poets, painters, and musicians revel in dreams at the feet of their unofficial leaders, the writers Charmian Clift and George Johnston, troubled queen and king of bohemia. At the center of this circle of misfit artists are the captivating and inscrutable Axel Jensen, his magnetic wife Marianne Ihlen, and a young Canadian ingenue poet named Leonard Cohen.
When eighteen-year-old Erica stumbles into their world, she's fresh off the boat from London with nothing but a bundle of blank notebooks and a burning desire to leave home in the wake of her mother's death. Among these artists, she will find an unraveling utopia where everything is tested—the nature of art, relationships, and her own innocence.
Intoxicating and immersive, A Theater for Dreamers is a spellbinding tour-de-force about the beauty between naïveté and cruelty, chaos and utopia, artist and muse—and about the wars waged between men and women on the battlegrounds of genius. Roiling with the heat of a Grecian summer, A Theater for Dreamers is, according to the Guardian, "a blissful piece of escapism" and "a surefire summer hit."

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Media Reviews

The Sunday Times Number 2 Bestseller

A Best of the Year Selection: The Times & The Sunday Times * Daily MailSpectator * Daily Telegraph

"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"

"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

"This gorgeous, glimmering summer read is itself perfect summer: irresistible and deep, Samson's lyric sentences pulling you into unforgettable sunlight and shadow." —Amy Bloom, New York Times bestselling author of White Houses

"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

"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

"Could hardly have come at a better time ... Samson recreates one heady summer there (the Greek island of Hydra) with impeccably ripening prose, all thyme-scented hills and cascading bougainvillea" - i newspaper

"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

"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 (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
"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

This information about A Theater for Dreamers shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Mary L. (Greeley, CO)

Through innocent eyes
Through the eyes of 18-year-old Erica, we escape to the island of Hydra in 1960 and a cosmopolitan group of writers, artists, and a few young adults who, like Erica, each seek something not quite in their reach. Polly Samson creates, through almost poetic phrasing, both atmosphere and understanding of the Hydra lives of Charmian Clift, George Johnston, Leonard Cohen and others as they interact that one summer. But it is through Erica's eyes and life that the reader experiences Hydra--the loveliness and the broken hearts of one eventful summer. Then we have a few final glimpses of life after the 1960 Hydra summer.

Eileen C. (New York, NY)

Watching the dreamers dream
Recently, we watched the perfect pandemic television show, "The Durrells in Corfu." Although "A Theater for Dreamers" is set decades later and on the Greek island of Hydra rather than Corfu, it had the same memorizing quality. Samson uses the adventures of a fictional young woman, Erica to write about a group of real people — Charmian Clift, George Johnson, Axel Jensen, Marianne Ihlen, and Leonard Cohen —who are all trying to create art. Samson mixtures the fictional with the factual—which is both fascinating and, occasionally, jarring—in order to explore the role of the muse and how it affects women's own creativity. Sometimes meandering, this beautifully written novel pays homage to a group of damaged, but brilliant artists.

Rosanne S. (Franklin Square, NY)

A Theater for Dreamers
I was a school administrator for many years and there was a teacher who would often ask her class "what would happen if everyone did what they want?". 'A Theater for Dreamers' embodied that question to the max.

At the beginning of this wild ride of a read, I was totally turned off and confused. Characters coming and going, changing, moving here and there, sleeping together and then not sleeping together, WHOA!!! Why keep reading???? Simply because it was enchanting and captivating and full of surprises right to the very last page.

The biggest surprise to me was that it was all real. I know that I requested to receive a copy to review but I had forgotten why when the book arrived. I'm really glad that I did because I read the book completely unaware and in awe. The best got even better when I came to realize it was real people and a pretty real story.

I highly recommend 'A Theater for Dreamers', open your mind to the wonder of it and enjoy.

Beth M. (New York, NY)

Hydra is for dreamers
I love, love, loved this book. What a fabulous read and the perfect escape for these times. Polly Samson's new novel is a wonderful snapshot of a glorious time (in the early 1960's) on the Island of Hydra. The descriptions are so poignant and accurate ( I was there 3 years ago). Narrated by16 year old Erica, it features an eclectic group of writer, poets, painters and musicians. Led by the writers Charmian Cleft and her husband George Johnson, their entourage includes Alex Jensen a destructive writer and his gorgeous wife, Marianne and the young Leonard Cohen. Wow! Their tangled lives and utopian dreams are fleshed out in beautiful, evocative prose. As their paradise splinters, pain and loss multiply. All the characters are human and flawed. I became so attached to their gossip,lives, and loves. I wanted to stay with them much longer. The ending was satisfying although I hope there's a second book.

Arlene I. (Johnston, RI)

To Be or Not To Be..
Welcome to the Island of Hydra in the 1960's. With a mixture of fictional and non-fictional characters,Polly Samson, gives the reader a chance to step back in time to one of the most decadent times in Greece. it was a roller coaster ride throughout the book. In order to make sense of the characters I do think knowledge of the "real characters" would help the reader get a sense of what it was to live in Hydra during this time period and who the real characters were. So I don't think this book can be what I call a "cold read".

Kudos to the author for getting permission to use Leonard Cohan's material. I felt like i was there in Hydra listening to Cohen reading to a group. This made the book more authentic. The author showed that even the most talented did not have the best moral character. Quite the opposite, but Ms. Samson gave us a better inkling on what these characters were like in a story form rather than reading biographical material. Erica and Jimmy's character development grew throughout the book. Jimmy's ambition seemed to fit this era.

The author pulled you into the decadence even though the cavorting characters were hard to keep up with.

There were not clear cut answers to why the characters behaved they way they did. But outside a group of talented people, they behaved in a carefree, hippyish manner not justifying there actions to anyone and just doing what they wanted to do outside norms. If you were looking for a moral of the story you could probably add the tag line...being a muse is not all it's cracked up to be. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and during this pandemic it was great to get lost in a little history with some very famous people, no matter how outlandish I thought they were. I look forward to Ms. Samson's next book.

Julie Z. (Oak Park, IL)

A Theater for Dreamers
A sensual haze of a novel, set on the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960's. Young Erica has come to find herself after the loss of her mother. She reaches out to her mother's friend, Charmian Clift, a bohemian writer. She and her husband, George Johnston are surrounded by a group of artists, where a hedonistic life is the norm. Erica is with her boyfriend, her brother, and a few other friends, but soon becomes enmeshed in the lives of the older artists. As this was an ARC, I knew nothing of the book before reading, and am embarrassed to say that I did not know that Clift and Johnston were actual writers. Leonard Cohen also makes an appearance.
This was a dream of a novel with sensuous and lush descriptions of the beauty of Greece. A small treat for those of us who cannot travel!

...10 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Polly Samson

Polly Samson is a writer of fiction and a lyricist. Her words have appeared on four number one albums, including Pink Floyd's The Division Bell and David Gilmour's On an Island. She has also worked as a journalist and in publishing, including two years as a columnist for the Sunday Times. Samson was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2018. Her first novel, Out of the Picture, was shortlisted for the Author's Club Award, and many of her stories, including those from her first collection Lying in Bed, have been read on Radio 4. A second collection of short stories, Perfect Lives, was a Book at Bedtime. She has written an introduction to a collection of Daphne du Maurier's earliest stories and has been a judge for the Costa Book Awards. Her 2015 novel The Kindness was named a Book of the Year by both the Times and the Observer.

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