Mariel's Reviews > Invitation to the Waltz

Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann
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Dec 17, 11

Recommended to Mariel by: slow motion
Recommended for: time of my life
Read in December, 2011

I think I loved Invitation to the Waltz a little bit. I have a feeling about it that it could grow into my memory as a fonder experience. Sweet and sad. I'll sigh when spotting it on my bookshelf (it is still on my bedside table. I'm reluctant to let go of the evening just yet). It's what people mean when they describe an experience as bittersweet, probably. I don't know if I could trust a memory as real unless its edges were sharp. "Did I built it into something too perfect?" If you're like me and find it difficult to enjoy anything without feeling sad for the inevitable moment of it ending you'll probably like this curious nostalgic feeling of a seventeen year old girl's first encounter with, well, looking around at other people (and maybe trying to avoid the meeting of the eyes in the looking around) to see if someone else might get the 'If you're like me..." feeling. It might be like reading a book and writing the goodreads review of it in your head while you read feeling. Olivia does that before, during and after her dance. They say not to look at your feet while you dance. Lehmann's prose style is a little like looking at your feet when you dance. She's moving. There are steps, like doing someone else's made up dance (I have used this analogy before, probably. When you rehearse and then on the day of you know the steps and forget and you're just dancing), and yet it's you moving. I like the way she moves. At first I wasn't so sure. Too many descriptions of outfits, the sister Kate was uninteresting to me in her predetermined romance that pretty people in young people's novels can have. I was suspicious that it would be another same old story I've read before. Yet it's unique like some dance that anyone could dance because of the deliberation of the steps. (Enough, Mariel.) Olivia is hopeful, out of place, uncomfortable in her own skin. It's the good kind of painful because you can like someone else for having those qualities that you were miserable yourself having. Anyone could say awkward teen, stiff upper lip English people, catty debutantes, et all, and yet Lehmann writes it as just skin to be worn and seen through if you will. The interest for me is in the will.

'Invitation' is a little awkward, even shy. I'm hooked on its arm and led into the country dance (it's really a dance this time!) that's something a great deal more than a country dance because it has been thought so much of. It's about the fit. The fit is less because it has been thought so much (less) of. Lehmann did something brilliant here. It's like wanting to be aware and utterly without the background to place others in. It is like being on someone else's arm in a room. Their shelter is also the shadow for you to stand in, if you do not know your own background (sharp edges and blurry middles. Or is it the other way around?). Olivia is a seventeen year old girl who stops to notice how she breathes. Do you ever stop and pay attention to your own breathing and after a while it feels like you might forget how if you can't stop paying attention to your own breathing? What if you also pay attention to how other people breathe and, wish as you might, you are not in sync. The arm you are on yanks as much as it can pull. It feels good when you're pulled so that you don't think about it.
The word suspicious is used a lot. What other people might mean, if you could read behind their intentions. If you could pull back the curtain of the mask. It's about the hope that there might be nothing more behind that background than the nice face it puts on. It's about when you might pull back on the arm. It's about feeling like there could be some imagination about that background and others fitting into it. 'Waltz' is bittersweet because I'm getting pulled too. I don't know if Olivia is going to remember to breathe. I forget when she forgets and suspect when she suspects. I don't know more about these people than she does. It's pretty much the perfect look into how a shy person forgets how to judge because she is too afraid of being judged herself.

I found out about Invitation to the Waltz (and it's sequel. I'm going to read that soon. I'm looking forward to it as a special treat for the Christmas break) when looking for readalikes of the favorites of my heart books. It was recommended for fans of Elizabeth Bowen's The Death of the Heart (my favorite book). It could have easily have been one of my I Capture the Castle readalikes of the summer of 2011, as well. This is one of my most cherished kinds of stories. How do you keep the hope alive about what is going on in all of those other people's heads? The studying/living/breaking one's own heart story. I think that I read them as a reminder that it comes out of the hope as much as suspicion. I want to believe that some part behind my own mask has wheel cogs turning to wonder about those Olivias.

"They were so kind. This was what real people were like after all, just as she had always imagined; not sinister, inexplicable, but friendly and simple, accepting one pleasantly, with humour but without malice, without condescension, criticism or caresses. How extraordinary to be here with them; from being outcast, flung beyond the furthest rim, to have penetrated suddenly to the innermost core of the house, to be in their home. The dancing, the people beyond were nothing, a froth on the surface, soon to be blown away."

And yet I felt so lonely for Olivia in the end. The dance is over and all of those people she met (some were out right horrors) are trying to keep a softer shape in her mind. I felt like she was losing those real edges and it was too sweet that she should trust. What if her Uncle Oswald is right that if she doesn't decide what the right way to fit is that someone else will decide for her. What if they don't stand beside with a sympathetic expression as Olivia does? What if she meets too many people who don't make the same concern and the wonder is gone and everyone seems the same old story that only some people get to have in novels? (I'd tell her to read better novels. They have great people.) What if those people weren't worth bothering about? Is it enough to do it to have better edges? I don't know... More books.
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Comments (showing 1-4)




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Mariel Thanks! I love Patrick Wolf. :)


Mariel Thanks, Elizabeth. I'm going to have to read those authors.


message 2: by knig (new)

knig I'm intrigued: but my 2012 list is now unmanageable and its only January, and I have to be very careful. I'm definitely adding Elizabeth Bowen's 'Heart': hadn't come across it but looks great.


Mariel Awww, but it's a quick read! You can do it!


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