Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dancing Backwards by Salley Vickers

Dancing Backwards
Review: Sue Leonard

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Salley Vickers
Fourth Estate; €9.85

A WIDOW, Violet Hetherington sets out on a journey across the Atlantic to see a friend, Edwin, with whom she has long lost touch. Violet is a quiet, dignified woman; not one to attract attention, but her fellow travellers feel drawn to her gentleness.

Her fellow passengers are a varied bunch. There’s an ex sea captain, a theatre critic and a romantic novelist. There’s a kind of clairvoyant and plenty of married couples, some of them better matched than others.

Soon Violet finds herself listening to their stories, offering advice and being used as an accomplice. She enjoys the diversion and starts to worry that she is turning into an elderly version of Jane Austen’s Emma. In reality, she reminded me more of a Miss Marple; and indeed she does solve a minor crime.

There is much time on the voyage for reflection. The novel dips back into Violet’s past, to her time as a brilliant undergraduate at Cambridge University. She might well have sunk there had she not been plucked from obscurity by Edwin, a postgraduate who recognised her talent.

The two set up home together, and later co-edit a poetry magazine. Edwin is gay, but the deep platonic friendship suits them both. Then Edwin’s old friend, Bruno, enters their lives, causing havoc, pain and betrayal. His poison leads to life-changing trauma for Violet. She retreats into a safe marriage and is only now trying to untangle the emotions of that time.

I loved this book for its subtlety, gentleness, intelligence and for its lyrical, if understated, prose.

Violet is an unlikely heroine but she endears herself to the reader; we’re rooting for her, hoping for a satisfactory outcome. This stylish novel examining human behaviour brilliantly shows the damage caused when someone sets out to ruin someone else’s sense of self.

This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Saturday, June 05, 2010


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